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Executive Summary

Faith in Tomorrow

Catholic Schools Vision Statement:
Building on a strong Catholic tradition, the elementary schools in the Diocese of Buffalo will be the premier educational choice for all families. Inspired by our faith and in partnership with the parents and the Catholic community, our schools will be dedicated to student excellence.

Catholic Schools Mission Statement:
The Catholic schools in the Diocese of Buffalo are Christ-centered learning communities which nurture academic excellence, Christian character and service to others. Our mission is to educate individuals to reach their full potential in an atmosphere rooted in Catholic tradition and Gospel values.

A Case for Change
Catholic schools are critical to vibrant Catholic communities and to the future of our Church. Throughout the eight counties of Western New York, our Church and schools serve a diverse population. Found in urban, rural and suburban areas, our Catholic school communities include people of varying ethnic backgrounds, learning capabilities, genders, and socio-economic situations.

Today, thousands of alumni of the Diocese of Buffalo Catholic schools are living and working in our area; many of them leaders in our parishes and communities. Thousands of teachers, priests, brothers, sisters and lay teachers have been part of a ministry that continues to educate children in a Christ-centered atmosphere, rooted in faith, service and personal responsibility.

Catholic schools in Western New York predate the 1847 establishment of the Diocese of Buffalo. Beginning with the efforts in mission churches of St. John Neumann in the 1830s, the work of educating children in Catholic schools has continued for more than 180 years. Characterized by their Catholic identity, an atmosphere of caring and compassion, and a strong sense of community, Catholic elementary schools have been a vital ministry throughout our history.

Catholic schools in the eight counties of Western New York gradually grew and flourished through the 1950s and early 1960s when enrollment reached its peak of 80,429 students in 199 elementary schools. In most cases, tuition at Catholic elementary schools was non-existent. At the same time, Buffalo had grown to become the 15th largest city in the United States with a 1950 population of just under 600,000. Suburban sprawl was just beginning, and would soon have an impact on our schools. National averages show that in 1950, 85 percent of family households were headed by married couples. Today, the number of children raised with both biological parents living in the same household has dropped to 63 percent.

By 2010, Buffalo’s population decreased to 261,300. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2009 that more than one in four people in Buffalo lived at or below the poverty level (28.8 percent of the population), making Buffalo the third poorest city in the country.

Clearly, times and the landscape of the Diocese of Buffalo have changed dramatically.

In 1950 there were 288 parishes and missions in the diocese. Today we have 175 parishes. The number of Catholic elementary schools is now 51, with an enrollment of slightly more than 12,000 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students. The average tuition has gone from “free” in the 1950s to $2,300 per student today, while the average cost per student has risen to $4,500. To ease the tuition burden, the diocese has implemented an education assessment, requiring every parish without a school to make regular financial contributions to assist our regional and parish schools.

The statistics are bleak and sobering. Although the challenges are daunting, the realities must be embraced and we must respond with faith and determination to provide a new vision for Catholic schools. Moving forward, we have the opportunity to redefine Catholic education in the Diocese of Buffalo so that we may continue to fulfill the mission to which we are called. The answer is not simply the consolidation of more buildings. As we implement the strategies and action plans contained in this document, we will transform the entire operation of the Catholic school network by right-sizing the number of school buildings we currently have, improving the financial stability of our schools, upgrading technology and facilities, and much, much more. The goal is to work more efficiently and cost-effectively in order to continue to provide an outstanding Catholic education that meets the highest standards for excellence, while passing on faith and values to future generations.

The purpose of this plan is to provide a blueprint to achieve that goal within a dynamic framework that enables us to respond to the evolving needs of the faith community of the Diocese of Buffalo.

The Process
In the spring of 2009, the newly-established diocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council recommended hiring the national company Meitler Consultants of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to begin Phase I of a strategic planning process for the elementary schools in the Diocese of Buffalo.

A Planning Task Force, comprised of representatives from across the diocese, met regularly with the consultants to review the data and its implications, to critique the proposals drafted by the consultants, and to review feedback from the broader community. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, bishop of Buffalo, and other diocesan leaders also provided input, feedback and overall guidance during the planning process.

Phase I of the plan was completed in November 2009. Recognizing “demographic shifts, rising costs and diminishing financial resources,” Meitler Consultants recommended further study in the areas of school organization and structure, leadership, education programs, governance, finances, and enrollment potential.

Following the Meitler report, Verdi & Company of Buffalo was retained to produce valuable and pertinent academic, economic, financial and demographic performance metrics and measures for the network as a whole and for each specific school. Additionally, based on the data collected, they were asked to develop projections for the school network across a five-year horizon. A report was presented to Bishop Kmiec in June 2010.

Among the major findings were:
Current school enrollment is 68 percent of capacity.
Out-migration from Western New York of educated and younger people of child-bearing years (25-40 years of age), continues to be a problem.
The Buffalo economy is expected to lag the national recovery and have a slower recovery and slower job regeneration.

“In summary, there appears to be minimal correlation between critical operational variables and the cost of the school network. There is too much variation among the 51 schools as measured by cost, enrollment and capacity as well as near-term projections. Overall, the lack of economies of scale suggests the stable to declining per-school enrollment projections and economics of the market will not support enrollment growth required to improve capacity and support the cost of the network. Therefore, decisions must concentrate on aligning cost and resources to a more manageable network – smaller, more efficient and positioned to support a lower cost base with increased capacity and competitiveness. The broad geographic market coverage, enrollment area overlap and insufficient demographics and challenged revenue sources suggest right-sizing and re-allocation of capital and rethinking of management approaches. All current inefficiencies must be challenged and fixed.”  (Verdi Report)

In June 2010, the diocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council, in consultation with Bishop Kmiec, established eight committees to prepare recommendations for the Diocese of Buffalo Catholic school network to address the inefficiencies outlined in the Verdi report. Committee members were selected from a broad range of backgrounds and expertise including pastors, principals, parents, community members and alumni. The committees focused on the areas of Catholic identity, academic excellence, health and human services, revenue, expenses, organizational structure, marketing, facilities and transportation. Through the diligent efforts of these committees the following plan has been developed and approved.

Download the complete report