A Very Painful, but Necessary, Decision
April 23, 2020
On April 21, Houston Chronicle reporter Shelby Webb published a story that hits too close to home for us at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. After speaking to numerous local and state officials, she deduced that school districts across Texas could feel the “ill effects” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on society.
“Next year, even if the restrictions are lifted, the coronavirus still could spark a budget crisis for traditional and charter school districts across Texas,” Webb reported.
For the good of our state and our common future, we naturally pray that the other school districts and systems across Texas are spared such trials and hardships; but for our Archdiocese and Catholic Schools Office, we must tell you this pandemic has already had a significant effect on our budgeting and planning processes.
With parishioners across the Archdiocese being hit with uncertainty in their jobs, offertory donations and contributions to parishes and schools have been impacted. Our parishes and Chancery offices have been forced to weigh furloughing or letting go of loyal, long-serving staff members. The tragic consequences do not end there.
Over the years, we have worked hard with many caring groups and generous people to sustain our Inner-City Catholic Schools (ICCS) — and help them remain the cornerstone in their communities — but changes in neighborhoods, parish demographics and the growth of charter schools have affected this work.
As a result, enrollment at the hardest hit of our ICCS has been below 100 students for multiple years, with their campuses being utilized at less than 40% capacity. These schools have also consistently relied on payroll assistance from the Archdiocese above and beyond traditional levels, and have seen their debt levels increase as a result. Additionally, building conditions have deteriorated and would require substantial capital outlays to provide a proper learning environment for students.
We hoped we would have more time to help turn these struggling schools around, but in recent weeks the reality of our budget challenges, drastically and negatively compounded by the COVID-19 protocols, forced a reassessment of these schools’ viability — and in our view created a mandate for immediate, urgent action.
Though it is deeply disappointing, on April 20 we notified the staff and families at four of our existing 12 ICCS that they would close at the end of this school year: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Queen of Peace and St. Francis of Assisi in Houston; and St. Pius V in Pasadena. Making matters worse, due to the current public health guidelines, we could not deliver this difficult news in person — as those parents and teachers would normally have a right to expect. We certainly understand and recognize their disappointment and dismay.
And yet, the times have changed. During the 1964-1965 school year, for example, these four schools had a total enrollment of 2,365 students. Today, these same schools have a total of 257 students between them. While God’s mercy is boundless, sadly our resources are not. These dire circumstances have forced our hand.
Our job as Catholic educators is to expand our reach, not contract. What’s more, Catholic schools strive to educate the whole person, but the persistently low enrollment in these schools made it more challenging to fulfill our mission. That said, the timing of this announcement was intended to give both families and teachers the maximum amount of time to prepare for the upcoming transition.
Our focus now is on providing as much support as we can. The Archdiocese is offering each family wishing to have their child attend another Catholic school a credit towards next year’s tuition. Additionally, the Catholic Schools Office is working to place the affected administrators and teachers in new positions. A new webpage for supporting both groups has been established at choosecatholicschools.org/assistance.
This very painful but necessary decision does not mean the Archdiocese is backing away from our commitment to ICCS — far from it. Thanks to the generous members of The Cardinal’s Circle and other caring groups, we have made amazing strides providing an education to more than 16,000 ICCS students over the last 10 years. Many of these students have graduated high school and college, and are making an impact in their communities right now.
Truly this is an extraordinarily difficult time, but our commitment to provide a Catholic education to those underserved remains firm — and our hope is the schools that remain open will become stronger, increase enrollment and continue to expand their boundaries of learning and new experiences for our students. †