April 25, 2007

More on Potential St. Agnes High School Closure

How We Can Help!

Proceeds from St. Agnes' musical "Beauty and the Beast" will go to the school's operating fund. Performances are April 27-29 and May 4-6. Call 651-228-1636 for information or to buy tickets in advance.

High School has until April 30th to find new students or new funding. Send Money Now! School address is: The Saint Agnes Schools, 530 Lafond Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103 651-228-1161

Story in April 24, 2007, Pioneer Press by Doug Belden follows...

Facing a projected drop in enrollment for the next school year and struggling with long-standing debts, St. Agnes High School needs to find new students or new funding before the end of the month to prevent closure, according to parish officials.

The K-12 school in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, established in 1888 and widely considered the most traditional of the area's Catholic schools, is facing a "critical deadline," according to a letter sent to parents last week by the Rev. John Ubel, parish pastor and the school's superintendent. The potential closure would affect only the high school - which was added in 1938 - and not the lower grades.

Monday morning, about 70 St. Agnes students, parents and alumni lined both sides of Kellogg Boulevard in front of the archdiocese offices, holding signs and encouraging motorists to honk in support of their school.

"It's such an icon of St. Paul," said Chris Steiner, a St. Agnes alum and father of five current students. "It would be just so sad to see it end this way."

"It's a community. It's more than just a school," junior Sarah Adam explained as she joined the rest of those rallying to save the high school. "There's really a place for everyone to shine."

St. Agnes is struggling with issues common to urban Catholic schools, including a decline in the school-age population and the movement of wealthy Catholics to the suburbs, prompting the need for increased aid for needy families in the city. High school tuition at St. Agnes next year is $7,350.

"The unfortunate and unexpected situation we face today," Ubel's letter reads in part, "is that many students that we expected to enroll for next year have not as of yet, or have expressed an intent to go elsewhere. ... Unless we can increase enrollment in grades nine through twelve, we will not be able to open the doors of the high school next fall."

Uncertain Future / St. Agnes has been running deficits for several years, and the parish has had to borrow more than $1 million to support the school, Ubel said.

The school's operating deficit this year was equal to the total parish income, Ubel said. That's far out of line with the recommendation from the archdiocese, which calls for parishes to spend less than 40 percent of their income on schools.

"It's unsustainable to expect that level of parish subsidy to continue," Ubel said. "The days of borrowing have to end."

Overall enrollment at the school is about 426 students, down from about 600 in 2001-02, a year of upheaval for St. Agnes that saw traumatic divisions among the administration, teachers and students [Note by Cathy: The divisions were because some of the the faculty did not seem to want the school to be Catholic. Then, Pastor, Fr. George Welzbacher, held his ground. My understanding is the "conflicted" faculty and students left].

There are currently about 200 students in grades nine through 12, Ubel said, and the school will lose about 50 graduating seniors. That is not an unusual number of students to have to replace, but the problem is that the school is not getting commitments from new students in the number expected.

The school reduced its staff by six employees earlier this year in response to its financial troubles, and as a result some parents apparently feared that aid for needy families would be cut and that the school's sports and extra-curricular activities would be dramatically reduced next school year, Ubel said.

The problem was compounded by the state high school league's new transfer rule this spring, which prompted some families to enroll elsewhere rather than commit to a school that seemed to have an uncertain future.

Difficult Days / The news of St. Agnes' precarious state comes as the community is grieving the loss of former Monsignor Richard Joseph Schuler, who led the parish from 1969-2001. Schuler died Friday, and a funeral Mass will be held tonight at the church.

"We owe this to Monsignor Schuler," said Michaela Ryan, mother of four St. Agnes students who attended Monday's rally.

The possible closing of an inner-city school is the latest local Catholics have struggled with in recent years.

Blessed Sacrament Catholic elementary on St. Paul's East Side closed in 2005 after 88 years, having watched its enrollment drop to less than a quarter of what it was in the 1970s. And St. Columba's elementary school in the Midway area closed the year before.

Meanwhile, officials note suburban Catholic schools are doing well, with St. Ambrose in Woodbury having a waiting list in recent years. And the region may get another suburban Catholic high school as officials with the Diocese of Superior consider opening one in the Hudson, Wis., area.

As for St. Agnes High School, finding either sufficient students or dollars by April 30 will be a difficult task.

"The potential exists, but it's going to be very tough," said Dennis McGrath, archdiocese spokesman. "It's a tough thing for a private Catholic school to sustain itself, particularly in light of the dynamics of the inner cities."

But Ken Otto, who helped enlist St. Bernard's parents in an effort to save that school a few years ago when it was in a similar situation, said the St. Agnes community should be optimistic. "If they get the support ... they can bring this around. We did."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

six days, $1.0 million debt? That is a tough nut to crack. It would break my heart to see this school close.

April 25, 2007 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I give a specific amount of money each year to a Catholic charity/cause. I think keeping St Agnes High School open is the best use of my donation for this year. However, I am wondering if I donate money and they still need to close, is the donation returned? It wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if they kept it, I just don't know what to expect.

Also, how much is a vocation to priesthood worth? It would seem short sighted of the diocese to let this happen.

April 25, 2007 12:03 PM  
Blogger cichx002 said...

Thank you for posting the sad news about St. Adnes HS.
I am an old Aggie(1952) and this is sad news. I have sent out e mails and hope that alumni will pitch in to help in any way they can. In fact, I hope that any of your readers who are able will help at least with prayers. It remains one of the Catholic high schools truly faithful to Catholic teaching.
Msgr. Schuler's Funeral was very moving and I do hope everyone attending realize the loss.

April 25, 2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

anonymous1: I agree. I wish we had known things were this bad earlier, but it is what it is.

anonymous2: You could call the school and find out. Typically, donations are not returned because they probably have bills to pay. Though, God forbid, the high school could close you would be helping the institution with outstanding debt. I don't know for sure but these would be my guesses based upon past fundraising experience.

Dr. Cich: Tell your Aggie friends that they could see a world where only the Bernies (St. Bernard's) exist! (referring to the old rivalry)Maybe, that will help!

April 25, 2007 2:28 PM  
Blogger cichx002 said...

I am also a "Bernie" ---grade school class of 1948. Many Bernies went to St Agnes HS. I regularly see a lovely lady--St. Bernard's class of 1936--St Agnes HS class of 1940---at coffee after Mass at St. Agnes.
Thanks for all the press. I know you are widely read

April 25, 2007 8:54 PM  

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