Q: Will this plan result in school closings?
A: As we implement this plan, 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.
Q: When will these initiatives and strategies be implemented? What’s the timetable for this plan?
Implementation of the plan is underway. This is a living, breathable document that will foster a community-based approach to affecting critical, positive change to important components of Catholic education that will stabilize and eventually grow enrollment. Like any strategic plan, we create it for now. As we move forward, it will be continually updated.
The document identifies key actions and goals for the transformation of Catholic elementary schools, as identified by nine committees representing seven key result areas. We expect to see results in many of these areas by the 2013-14 school year.
Q: Can you explain the development/research process of “Faith in Tomorrow”?
There were three phases: In Phase I, researchers from Meitler Consultants, in conjunction with diocesan leaders and representatives, developed proposals based on data they compiled on demographic shifts, rising costs, diminishing financial resources and other factors impacting Catholic schools in the Diocese of Buffalo. Phase I was completed in November 2009 with Meitler Consultants recommending further study in several critical areas.
Phase II followed. Verdi & Company studied information they produced on metrics and measures for Catholic schools as a whole and for each specific school. Verdi then developed five-year projections and presented them to Bishop Kmiec in June 2010.
Following the review of these projections, the Catholic Schools Advisory Council and Bishop Edward U. Kmiec moved forward with the third and final phase of planning, establishing the nine committees to prepare recommendations regarding the future of Catholic elementary schools based on the previous research and planning.
Q: How were these research studies funded?
Funding for all three phases of the planning process was provided by The John R. Oishei Foundation of Buffalo.
Q: What role did key stakeholders (i.e., pastors, parents, principles) play in developing this strategic plan?
The Catholic Schools Advisory Council developed “Faith in Tomorrow” through collaborative dialogue and extensive research and planning. Focus groups of school parents and pastors of parishes, both with and without schools, discussed their perceptions about Catholic schools, their strengths and what they value in a school. Researchers also surveyed parents whose children left Catholic schools as well as those who attended open houses, but did not enroll in a Catholic school. The end result was valuable data that has been used in the development of the plan.
Q: What role will Bishop Kmiec have in “Faith in Tomorrow,” in the wake of his pending retirement?
The Code of Canon Law required that Bishop Kmiec submit his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XVI on his 75th birthday, June 4, 2011. The reason for this requirement is pastoral in nature, namely, for the good of souls, since the pastoral office of bishops is “so important and onerous, while increasing age makes them less able to fulfill it.”
The recent custom of the Holy Father has been to acknowledge receipt of the letter, but to defer acceptance until the notice of the selection of a bishop’s successor. Ordinarily, that takes up to a year, maybe less, maybe more, allowing the current bishop to function with full powers of a bishop ordinary, but there is no specific timeline as to when the pope will announce the next bishop of Buffalo.
With that in mind, together with the team that has worked on this plan, Bishop Kmiec will continue to be actively involved in its implementation until his successor is named as the 14th bishop of Buffalo.
Q: How will this affect jobs and salaries? Will any school employees be laid off?
This plan is about strengthening schools – stronger academics, finances, and services through collaborative efforts in the community. Enrollment is key. As a diocese we will work with parishes and communities to decide the best path for the future. The demographics clearly indicate a decline in school age population and a decline in women of child bearing age. Mergers will be inevitable and in those cases the office of Human Resources of the Diocese will work with employees on potential employment opportunities.
Q: Will tuition rates be impacted?
Yes, tuition rates may be impacted, but the plan also calls for increasing tuition assistance to families who struggle to pay tuition. The Diocese has set benchmarks for all schools regarding revenue: 60percent from tuition, 25 percent from parish or Diocesan subsidy and 15 percent from fundraising. Bishop Kmiec started an endowment for tuition assistance with the $5 million estate Francelia L. Bennett, and we must increase that endowment to meet the needs of our community. The Church has always had a preferential option for the poor and marginalized and the recent agreement of the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese with the BISON Scholarship Fund (a privately funded tuition assistance program) is a clear indication that we are interested in keeping our schools affordable for ALL students (Catholic and non-Catholic) who wish to attend.
Q: What is the diocese doing to ensure Catholic education remains affordable, especially to disadvantaged students?
The Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has entered into a three-year partnership with the BISON Scholarship Fund. Beginning with the 2011-12 academic year, the foundation will provide a $600,000 grant to the fund. This grant will replace the Catholic Elementary Tuition Assistance Program (CTAP) funding for the term of the agreement. CTAP provides needs-based tuition assistance for Catholic and non-Catholic students registered at any Catholic elementary school in the diocese.
This new partnership will allow for the expansion of the BISON Fund which will now provide tuition assistance for eligible low-income children living in all eight counties of Western New York. Applications are available at www.bisonfund.com and at all Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Buffalo.
Q: How does this plan impact parishes without schools?
Catholic schools prepare the future leaders of our Church and our community. This plan calls for all parishes, with and without schools, to support Catholic schools as an important ministry of the Church - support in terms of time, talent and treasure. In 2007 the Diocese implemented the elementary school funding plan through which all parishes without schools contribute to the support of Catholic elementary schools. This assessment plan echoes the statement of recent popes and United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in that it is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community to support Catholic schools.
"Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation. " (Address of Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Catholic Educators, Conference Hall of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Thursday, April 17, 2008)
The plan also calls for strengthening the Catholic families participation in their parish community. Many parishes without schools have families who do attend schools at other parishes. Priests and parishioners of all parishes will be called on to become more involved in the school community. At the same time, working with other departments within the Diocese through such programs as "Strong Catholic Families - Strong Catholic Youth" and "Pathways to Parish Vitality", the school children, their families and extended families will play a more active role in their parishes.
Q: What is the impact of this plan on the greater WNY community?
Since the efforts of St. John Neumann in the 1830's (predating the establishment of the Buffalo Diocese in 1847), Catholic schools have been educating children in Western New York. Steeped in a sense of faith, values and service to others, our graduates have become the leaders in their communities, parishes, workplaces and families.
“Catholic Education serves the future of all Americans, by teaching and communicating the very virtues on which American Democracy rests." (Address of Pope John Paul II, Sunday October 8, 1995, Cathedral of Mary Our Queen)
Statewide, Catholic schools save New York taxpayers $8 billion per year. In Western New York, Catholic schools save taxpayers nearly $262 million per year, and in Erie County alone, Catholic schools save taxpayers more than $233 million each year. Niagara County savings total more than $17.1 million; Genesee County, $7.7 million; Chautauqua County, $3.8 million; Cattaraugus County, $3.3 million; and Allegany County, more than $2.2 million.
This plan is about sustaining Catholic schools for future generations. In addition to saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year, offering quality alternatives to public education is an essential workforce development tool. Education is a top priority for employers in looking to relocate to our area and in recruiting new employees.
Q. Where can I get more information?
Please visit the “Faith in Tomorrow” website at www.faithintomorrow.org