Diocese, BISON Fund in talks to generate new scholarships
All Catholic elementary schools in Buffalo to remain open
Bishop Malone renews call for approval of investment in education tax credit
Three years of exhaustive research, collaboration and consultation culminated Wednesday with the announcement by the Diocese of Buffalo of the implementation of "Faith in Tomorrow," the strategic vision for Catholic elementary schools.
The Very Rev. Richard J. Malone, bishop of Buffalo, said the diocese and The BISON Fund are collaborating on a plan to fund new scholarships for students who have applied to transfer out of low-performing Buffalo elementary schools.
"We are involved in preliminary discussions with the BISON Children's Scholarship Fund regarding a scholarship program, which could potentially increase Catholic school enrollment and positively affect the future of our elementary schools," Malone said.
As part of the revitalization of schools, Malone has accepted the recommendations to keep open all Catholic elementary schools in Buffalo, while 10 Catholic elementary schools outside the city will close this June, marking another step in the implementation of "Faith in Tomorrow."
"Regarding the school closures, this will be a difficult decision for many to accept, but these reductions are necessary, and will allow us to sustain and eventually strengthen our remaining Catholic elementary schools," Malone said. "This is an important responsibility I bear as bishop. I am grateful to the Catholic School Advisory Council, pastors, principals and other lay advisers who spent a tremendous amount of time and effort during this planning effort."
"I encourage families of closing schools to enroll in any other Catholic school, while remaining members of their current parishes. They will continue to qualify for the parishioner tuition rate at a school in another parish," Malone said. "We are not alone in this situation. Not a single public school district in Western New York is growing enrollment."
Pastors, principals, parents and other stakeholders met in cluster meetings between October and December. Along with a committee of the advisory council, they developed the recommendations that were approved by Malone.
The following schools will close and the end of the 2013-14 school year:
•Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, Elma; 102 students (K-8); 18 faculty and staff
•Fourteen Holy Helpers School, West Seneca; 136 students (K-8); 20 faculty and staff
•Our Lady of Pompeii School, Lancaster; 70 students (K-8); 14 faculty and staff
•Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School, Orchard Park; 135 students (K-8); 24 faculty and staff
•St. Bernadette School, Orchard Park; 148 students (K-8); 22 faculty and staff
•St. Francis of Assisi School, Tonawanda; 152 students (K-8); 19 faculty and staff
•St. Joseph School, Gowanda; 42 students (K-8); 16 faculty and staff
•St. Leo the Great School, Amherst; 99 students (K-8); 24 faculty and staff
•St. Mary of the Lake School, Hamburg; 122 students (K-8); 23 faculty and staff
•St. Vincent dePaul School, Spring Brook; 148 students (K-8); 15 faculty and staff
The remaining parish schools will begin to transition into "Community Schools," governed by lay advisory boards of limited jurisdiction that will work with pastors on budgeting, administrative hiring and evaluation, and other school operations.
"Catholic education will continue to be a primary ministry of the Diocese of Buffalo," Malone said. "The revitalization of our schools will result in increased average enrollment in the remaining schools, enabling a greater percentage of diocesan and parish investment in Catholic education to support programming, rather than building and overhead expenses. This increased investment will create additional academic and extracurricular opportunities for our students."
Over the past seven years, significant emphasis has been placed on strengthening Catholic schools for sustainability throughout the future. Through the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's Catholic School Development program and numerous programs of the Department of Catholic Schools, funded by The John R. Oishei Foundation, training and school consultations were offered on such topics as enrollment management, marketing, fiscal responsibility, academics and Catholic identity. With the publishing of "Faith in Tomorrow," in June 2011, each school was and continues to be challenged to define their status in relation to the expectations of the plan.
"While demand for Catholic education remains strong, we are at a crossroads and our taxpaying families, many of whom are hurting financially, deserve help from Albany in the form of passage of the education investment tax credit bill," Malone said. "This legislation would greatly reduce the need for further restructuring of our schools. State legislators from Buffalo and Western New York need to enact this proposal as soon as possible."
The tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for any person or business that makes a donation to public schools or private scholarships, which can be claimed on personal income tax or corporate tax forms. It also provides a state tax credit for individuals making direct monetary contributions to local education funds established to support a school or school district, and donations to pre-kindergarten programs, nonprofit organizations providing educational programs in public schools, and nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to public and nonpublic schools.
"Our Catholic school families support public schools in the taxes they pay and the millions of dollars in savings that accrues to New York state by these families educating their children in our Catholic schools," Malone said. "These families deserve help from their representatives in Albany, and the tax credit bill is the way to do that. It is now time for the Senate and Assembly to pass the education investment tax credit bill, and it is time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill into law."
"The strong foundation for Catholic schools remains," Malone said. "Ninety-nine percent of Catholic high school students graduate, with 98 percent of those graduates moving on to college. Graduates of our Catholic high schools earn close to $160 million in college scholarships each year. Our success is unmatched, and will remain so."
"Throughout the entire planning process, the issue of Catholic identity was paramount," said Carol Kostyniak, secretary for Catholic Education for the diocese. "Parents who entrust their children to Catholic schools should expect that their children will receive a quality Catholic education imbued with Gospel values of faith, justice and charity. The results of this process included a renewed dedication of clergy, the enhanced sense of partnership between pastors and principals, and the strengthening of Catholic identity and culture of the schools."
"Our elementary schools will be in a position to focus even more on Catholic identity and academics," said Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese. "What we call 'STREAM' - science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math - will become the focal point of our curriculum. STREAM will engage students at an early age in the study of robotics, architecture, space exploration, technical design and other subjects, all encompassed by a foundation based on faith and values."
Nearly 2,200 parents and other interested parties who took part in an online survey last November and December said they are looking for rigorous faith-based learning, updated facilities, enhanced science and technology programs, and they want to make sure Catholic education remains available and affordable.
"We are addressing those concerns through STREAM and other programming," Kostyniak said. In addition, the Buffalo Diocesan Federation of Home School Associations, which was formed last November, is working to provide a strong voice in Catholic education. The association will coordinate parent education programs and work to provide resources for parents to use, such as how to talk to their children about God and the Catholic faith, parent technology workshops and speakers.
Schools will work with their teachers or the union representing the teachers, where applicable, regarding the effects of the decision on staffing. The diocesan departments of Catholic schools and human resources will also be available to assist in the process with possible placement in other Catholic schools.
"I want to thank the educators and lay leaders at the parish level who helped to develop the recommendations that are being implemented. The decisions were difficult, there's no doubt about it, but they put the success of our students ahead of any parochial concerns, and that selflessness will result in even stronger Catholic schools in Western New York," Malone said.
The following Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Buffalo will be opennext September, at the start of the 2014-15 academic year:
City of Buffalo
Catholic Academy of West Buffalo
Nativity Miguel Middle School
Notre Dame Academy
Our Lady of Black Rock
Eastern Erie Vicariate
Queen of Heaven (West Seneca)
St. John Vianney (Orchard Park)
Mary Queen of Angels (Cheektowaga)
Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament (Depew)
St. Mary's Elementary (Lancaster)
Immaculate Conception (East Aurora)
St. John the Baptist (Alden)
Northern Erie Vicariate
Christ the King (Snyder)
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
SS. Peter & Paul (Williamsville)
St. Benedict (Eggertsville)
St. Gregory the Great (Williamsville)
St. Mary (Swormville)
St. Amelia (Tonawanda)
St. Andrew's Country Day (Kenmore)
St. Christopher (Tonawanda)
St. John the Baptist (Kenmore)
St. Stephen (Grand Island)
Southern Erie Vicariate
Nativity of Our Lord (Orchard Park)
Our Lady of Victory (Lackawanna)
Southtowns Catholic (Lake View)
SS. Peter & Paul (Hamburg)
Western Niagara Vicariate
Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls
Sacred Heart Villa (Lewiston)
St. Peter (Lewiston)
Stella Niagara Education Park
DeSales Catholic (Lockport)
St. Aloysius (Springville)
Vicariate of Chautauqua
Northern Chautauqua Catholic (Dunkirk)
Southern Cattaraugus Vicariate
Southern Tier Catholic (Olean)
St. Joseph (Batavia)
Immaculate Conception (Wellsville)
Catholic elementary schools that will continue to operate next year will hold open houses in the coming weeks. Parents and guardians are urged to attend open houses during Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26-Feb.1) or schedule individual appointments and to register for the 2014-15 school year.
Additional information is available at www.wnycatholicschools.org.