Financial Crisis in Catholic Elementary Schools
The story has been told regarding the priest abuse crisis in the Diocese of Buffalo. We are all familiar too with diocesan bankruptcy. Combined the two events have had a huge negative impact on church attendance and financial contributions. The story not yet told is the impact all of this has had upon the Catholic elementary schools of Western New York.
Prior to the bankruptcy, the diocese financially contributed to the support of its elementary schools. There were 34 schools of which 24 were parish schools and 10 regional schools. Parishes throughout the diocese were assigned a financial assessment as their contribution to Catholic education. These funds were then distributed to the schools for operational expenses. When the diocese went into bankruptcy all payments to help support the schools were discontinued.
Over the last two years the Catholic elementary schools were able to survive financially due to the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that is now discontinued. We are already seeing the results of this loss of funding with the closing of St. Aloysius Elementary School in Springville and Immaculate Conception in Wellsville. Many more Catholic elementary schools may not be able to survive either. At particular risk are the regional Catholic schools. When these schools were organized the concept was parishes within their “region” would contribute their school financial assessment to the schools. Though some pastors did, most did not. Accordingly, the diocese often had to step in and provide funding to keep the school doors open. Now there is no funding at all for these regional schools.
The regional Catholic elementary schools are of the greatest risk of closing. In some instances, but not all, they are the only remaining option in their counties for a child to have a faith-based Catholic education. These schools like all Catholic schools do not just teach children of the Catholic faith. They teach all that are seeking a quality education and a sense of purpose. Catholic Academy of West Buffalo is a regional school where over 90% of their children receive Bison Funding to help with the children’s tuition. Many of their children are recent immigrants. Regional schools like Northern Chautauqua Catholic School in Dunkirk, St. Joseph in Batavia, and Southern Tier Catholic in Olean are the only remaining Catholic elementary schools in their areas.
This doesn’t mean that parish schools aren’t in financial trouble as well. As noted above, parish contributions have dropped, creating a challenge for pastors who must meet the needs of their parish as well as their school.
How can we help these Catholic elementary school survive so they are there to serve future generations? Believe it or not the answer is not just more financial donations. The financial model used to support Catholic education for years is simply proven not to be sustainable. The schools have depended on the “gifts of others” and tuition. The gifts come in the form of parishioner support, scholarship contributions and school fundraisers. You simply cannot year after year keep asking donors for their financial help. First, you are not the only one asking every year. Many organizations like Catholic Charities depend on annual campaign drives to support their good works. Donors will give but they want to know where it ends.
People have to know there is a financial crisis for the Catholic elementary schools. If you don’t work in a Catholic elementary school, if you don’t have children or grandchildren in the schools, you most likely are not aware of the crisis. Generations of Catholic school alumni throughout Western New York need to know that the heritage of Catholic education is in danger of being lost. This is not just a Catholic elementary school issue. These schools are the feeder schools for enrollment in the Catholic high schools as well as our area Catholic institutions of higher learning.
Future Financial help is not likely to come from the Diocese of Buffalo. Even when the bankruptcy is completed and even if the diocese wanted to help, it may take many years for them to recover themselves.
It is the contention of the Catholic Children’s Learning Corporation that the way we financially support Catholic elementary schools needs to change. Instead of relying solely on donors and fundraisers, the schools need to have a steady and reliable annual “income” stream. Using the historical model created by Father Baker, Orders of women like the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the Felicians, and men’s religious communities like the Franciscans and Jesuits, all of whom owned businesses or property to support their good works, the CCLC will replicate their model. The Catholic Children’s Learning Corporation (CCLC) was formed as a nonprofit 501C3 to help financially support the Catholic elementary schools of Western New York. We are also forming a C Corporation to create businesses whose net profits will be given to these schools. However, to help us begin this journey we need awareness throughout WNY regarding the crisis in the schools. We need leaders in the community to step forward to help support our efforts in any way they can. But first the story needs to be told. Accordingly, the CCLC is holding a campaign to raise $100,000 to help raise awareness of the financial crisis of these schools. These funds will be used for television, radio, and print presentations and ads. Every penny of donated funds goes to this effort. The CCLC is a completely volunteer organization. If you would like to donate you can send a check to the Catholic Children’s Learning Corporation at 110 Wayne Ave, Amherst, New York 14228. You can also donate on the CCLC website at cclcbuffal.org All donations will be recognized as a charitable contribution.
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