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Published: Saturday, 2/14/2009

Diocese to consolidate East Toledo schools

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

To keep Catholic education in eastern Lucas County, the Toledo Catholic Diocese plans to consolidate kindergarten through 12th-grade students onto one campus.

The first step along that journey was announced Friday- to create a middle school and close one of three elementary schools.

A total of 781 students are enrolled in four schools: Sacred Heart and St. Thomas Aquinas schools in East Toledo, St. Jerome School in Walbridge, and Cardinal Stritch High School in Oregon, all of which are in the Kateri Catholic School System, Sally Oberski, spokesman for the diocese, said.

Starting in the 2009-10 school year, a new middle school will be housed in a wing of Cardinal Stritch called Kateri Catholic Academy-Oregon Campus, and Sacred Heart will be closed.

The changes are expected to save $1 million next year.

"As much as we're all bracing for a change and uncomfortable with it at times, we know it's the right thing to do," said the Rev. David Reinhart, Kateri Catholic School System president.

The elementary schools serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students. Starting next year, they will be K-5 schools and those in sixth through eighth grades will go to the new middle school.

The Sacred Heart students will have the option to attend either St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Jerome, Father Reinhart said.

In this transition phase, the diocese wanted to keep the suburban school in Walbridge and close one of the two in East Toledo.

St. Thomas Aquinas had more classrooms for flexibility and recently added windows and had other facility updates, Father Reinhart said.

A parent survey also indicated a preference to keep that school, he said.

All of the lower-grade schools will carry the Kateri Catholic Academy name, but will be known as different campuses.

St. Thomas Aquinas will be the Kateri Catholic Academy - Toledo Campus, and St. Jerome, the Kateri Catholic Academy - Walbridge Campus.

Eventually there will be only one Kateri Catholic Academy serving prekindergarten through eighth-grade students and Cardinal Stritch High School.

There is room to create a middle school inside the high school and the diocese will conduct a feasibility study to determine the best way to bring an elementary school to that campus, Father Reinhart said.

Cardinal Stritch was designed to have boys on one side and girls on the other with separate entrances, rest- rooms, and offices, so it's an easy transition to set aside one wing for the middle school, Father Reinhart said.

The changes are prompted by a negative fiscal situation because of declining enrollments.

Enrollment in Kateri Catholic School System buildings has decreased 25 percent each year in the last three years.

"We're educating half as many students as we were 10 years ago," Father Reinhart said.

It costs slightly more than $5 million to run the schools as they are now and the $1 million expected to be saved from this reorganization is from having fewer facilities open and a reduction in duplicated staff.

As enrollment in the area has fallen, the staff hasn't been altered accordingly and there have been some classes with as few as seven students, Father Reinhart said.

"We were paying too many teachers to educate not enough kids," he said.

Father Reinhart expects staff to decrease from 90 employees to 65, hopefully through attrition and retirement.

The diocese has been holding meetings at the parishes in the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Deanery to keep the memberships and families informed about the upcoming changes.

"The overwhelming response is most people know we need to do something," Father Reinhart said.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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