Facilities and Transportation

Faith in Tomorrow

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1. By 2013-14, in a collaborative effort, school, parish and diocesan leadership will right-size the number and location of elementary school buildings to address the demographic realities, attain defined optimal enrollment per building and achieve financial stability.
2. By 2013-14, 100 percent of schools will have appropriate classrooms, the technology infrastructure and required equipment needed to provide a quality Catholic elementary school education as measured under New York state and diocesan standards and research-based practices.
3. By 2013-14, all schools will evaluate and update their facilities annually for quality educational programs in buildings that are attractive, safe and well-maintained.
4. By 2013-14, the diocese, in collaboration with schools will develop and articulate a transportation plan to address accessibility and enrollment.
5. By 2013-14, each school will reduce the energy footprint and conserve resources by five percent as measured from a baseline year.

Mindful of declining enrollment and population shifts, Verdi & Company of Buffalo was contracted in 2010 to gather and analyze the overall demographic, social and economic data affecting enrollment in Catholic elementary schools. Several trends continue to work as headwinds in Western New York: demographic (population loss and out migration); social (lower birth rates and less women in child-bearing ages) and economic (continued loss of jobs and minimal job generation); religious (declining numbers of parish populations and observant Catholics); and competitive (attractiveness of charter schools). In concert, these trends result in overall lower school enrollment in Catholic elementary schools, which in turn results in many schools operating below capacity.

Several different categories of data were collected and integrated into a structure that summarized the school network and market as a whole, as well as per elementary school and sub-market (enrollment area). Three main categories of data were collected, organized, verified and analyzed. The perspective of data organization was from a macro view (the eight-county region) to micro view (school enrollment and neighborhood area). The three categories of data are:
Economic data, market, demographic and segmentation data
Neighborhood condition and sub-market data
School and school enrollment area data
All data collected and verified was placed in a large ‘master matrix’ organized at the school and school enrollment area level. The master matrix included economic, enrollment, financial, demographic and other data for each enrollment area. Using this approach, each school and school enrollment area can be compared and contrasted with market conditions, overall school system, individual markets as well as other schools. Areas of diocesan elementary school coverage, enrollment area ‘overlap’ and voids were produced.

The results indicate that the diocesan network is operating inefficiently at just 68 percent of building capacity. School enrollment areas within certain markets indicate overlap in many areas, which results in significant intra-diocese competition among schools for potential students. Future sustainability demands that the number of buildings be right-sized to achieve a capacity of 80 to 85 percent.

Many components of this key result area require additional analysis and research. All data and analysis will be shared with local parish and school leadership teams to inform the restructuring process, which will identify the most advantageous location and school building with available transportation within a region. Schools with larger enrollments will be able to offer stronger educational programs, operate more efficiently and will help to secure financial stability across the network.

All students and faculty deserve to work in a safe and well-maintained building conducive to a quality Catholic education. Recognizing the age of buildings and the high cost of deferring maintenance, it is recommended that every school develop an annual facilities plan to address ongoing maintenance and future facility needs with an appropriate budget to cover these expenses.

Strategy 6.1:
Implement a proactive, collaborative process with the local schools and parishes to right-size the number and location of elementary schools to address demographic realities, attain optimal enrollment and achieve financial sustainability.
Action Plans:
• Utilize The Desired Characteristics of Vibrant Catholic Elementary Schools (Meitler, 2009) as a key element in the restructuring process.
• Review demographic studies and recommendations for locations based on the Meitler and Verdi studies.
• Use building capacities established by the facilities committee to determine optimal enrollment for sustainability.
• Identify regions for consolidation and establish committees at the local level in those regions.
• Evaluate buildings based on facility checklist and accessibility.
• Engage constituents (i.e. parents, faculty and staff, parish members, and community) in dialogue.

Strategy 6.2:
Establish and articulate diocesan policies and guidelines for facilities to provide a quality educational program to support optimal enrollment for financial stability in accordance with state and local guidelines.
Action Plans:
• Establish building capacity based on enrollment of 20 to 25 students per class for each school facility in the Diocese of Buffalo.
• Maintain data and communicate to local school leaders on current population demographics and religious trends (i.e. marriages and baptisms).
• Create a checklist for assessing and monitoring buildings and grounds, including physical condition, educational soundness, technology, exterior areas and signage, transportation, and opportunities for expansion.
• Develop and continuously update a technology plan in each school to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure for integration of technology into the curriculum and teaching to enhance learning.
• Develop and update a five-year plan in each school for maintenance, repairs and improvements with adequate funding in the annual budget.
• Monitor energy usage as measured by invoices and energy audits and develop strategies to reduce consumption.

Strategy 6.3:
Evaluate and address the accessibility of schools to promote enrollment.
Action Plans:
• Evaluate transportation needs as part of the process in consolidating/closing buildings.
• Foster relationships with the local public school districts and monitor public school transportation policies to address student transportation needs in the Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
• Conduct a survey to determine the effect of transportation on potential enrollment.
• Research the potential for diocesan transportation based on documented needs in the elementary and secondary schools and make recommendations to the Department of Finance based on cost/benefit ratios.