Saturday, September 27, 2003

Catholic schools scramble to reverse enrollment slide



By Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EVENDALE - The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is poised to launch a school marketing campaign costing up to $135,000, on the heels of budget cuts and a 2.5 percent decline in enrollment on opening day.

Some 53,000 students in 132 schools from preschool to grade 12 were enrolled on opening day in the 19-county area served by archdiocesan schools, compared with enrollment of about 54,000 on opening day last year, said Brother Joseph Kamis, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.

Schools in Butler, Warren, Hamilton and Clermont counties had an opening-day enrollment of 38,990, according to the archdiocese.

The official 2002-03 enrollment for Greater Cincinnati was higher by nearly 700 students, according to the archdiocese Web site.

The proposed new campaign was presented to representatives from about 35 Cincinnati-area parochial schools at a meeting this week at St. Rita School for the Deaf.

The spending comes as the archdiocese faces a hiring freeze and complaints from some families that they can't afford to send their kids to Catholic schools, Kamis said.

Kamis blames the enrollment drop on rising popularity of charter schools and the slower economy, among other reasons.

"We need to make it affordable," he said. Decades ago, "the archdiocese paid $80, and tuition was $160. Now they're paying $80, and the tuition is $6,000," he told development directors at the meeting.

"We have to lose a little bit of our parochialism," Deputy Superintendent of Schools Anne Battes Kirby told the school development directors.

"What helps one, helps all."

In addition to sprucing up the archdiocese's logo, church officials also propose spending about $22,000 on 25,000 CDs to be handed out to real-estate offices, pediatricians, day cares and at events such as Taste of Blue Ash, Battes Kirby said.

Toby Heile, director of development at all-male Elder High School in Price Hill, said enrollment there is 1,030 this year, up 25 students, but tuition is expected to rise.

Heile said parochial elementaries have been hit especially hard with declining numbers of students.

In Loveland, Intermediate School Principal Warren McClellan says the school of about 700 fifth- and sixth-graders has six to eight transfers from parochial schools this year, which he attributes partly to the ailing economy.

Gail Ferguson of Loveland switched her sixth-grade daughter Katelyn, 11, from St. Columban School to Loveland Intermediate School this year.

Ferguson said the tuition, about $1,200 a year, at St. Columban wasn't the main issue for her: She liked the discipline and academic reputation at the public school. Still, it didn't hurt that public school costs less. With taxes thrown in, "I was paying double," she said.

Ferguson's daughter still talks about going to a parochial high school, such as Mount Notre Dame or Ursuline Academy, she says. But "I hope she doesn't, because I don't want to pay $6,000 to go to high school."

E-mail loakes@enquirer.com




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