48 Philly Catholic schools to close, reorganize
PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia plans to close four Roman Catholic high schools and close or combine 44 elementary schools due to rising costs and low enrollment, the head of the teachers' union said today.
Association of Catholic Teachers local president Rita Schwartz told The Associated Press she learned of the closures during a meeting this morning with archdiocese officials.
The archdiocese will close four high schools in June, according to Schwartz: Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Pendergrast, which share a campus in Drexel Hill, Delaware County; Conwell-Egan in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, and two Philadelphia high schools, West Catholic and St. Hubert.
"It's extremely sad," Schwartz said. "Right now, there is a grieving process going on in 44 elementary schools and four high schools."
The recommendations by an archdiocesan task force stem from a yearlong analysis of the struggling Catholic education system, which includes 178 schools in the city and four suburban counties.
A message left for an archdiocese spokeswoman was not immediately returned. Church officials planned a news conference to discuss the reorganization later today.
The closings come on top of 30 other schools shut over the past five years as higher tuition, shifting demographics and an increase in charter schools have siphoned off students. Current enrollment stands at about 68,000 students, a 35 percent drop since 2001.
The 16-member Blue Ribbon Commission of church officials and laity was created in December 2010 by Cardinal Justin Rigali — then head of the archdiocese — and charged with examining the sustainability of local Catholic schools.
Officials stressed at the time that the goal was not necessarily to come up with a list of schools to close, but to devise a comprehensive plan to ensure high-quality, affordable and accessible religious education.
But commission members released an update in August warning that shifting demographics threatened the system in its current form.
Catholic education nationwide has suffered for years from the double whammy of rising costs and dwindling enrollment, forcing tuition hikes that make the schools increasingly unaffordable.
Nationwide, Catholic schools have lost more than 587,000 students since 2000, according to the National Catholic Education Association. At least 1,750 schools have closed.
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