Catholic schools end climb of 7 years Suburban gains offset by declines in city enrollment


Halting a seven-year climb, Catholic school enrollment in the Archdiocese of Baltimore showed no significant growth this year, with only 19 more students in 101 schools this fall than last.

Enrollment in the Catholic schools in Baltimore City dropped about 300 students, after two years of increases, while some suburban areas continued to show growth. Overall, there are 35,993 students in Catholic elementary and high schools across the archdiocese.

Archdiocesan officials say the numbers were expected.

"They are not a surprise, and it's nothing for us to be disturbed about," said Catholic schools superintendent Ronald J. Valenti.

The situation is one of mismatched supply and demand.

In the suburban counties, demand for Catholic school seats remains high, with waiting lists in many filled-to-capacity schools.

Enrollments were up in all of the metropolitan Baltimore counties, but "the real surge is in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County," said Kelley Ray, marketing director for the schools. Those areas showed increases of about 100 and 180 students, (( respectively.

Baltimore County has the largest number of Catholic school students, with 13,732 this year.

In the city, where there are vacancies in many of the 39 schools, the demand is lower because of dwindling populations and the inability of families to pay tuition.

"The challenge for the city is an ongoing one," said Valenti. "It's a personal challenge -- to help parents who want to make that choice."

Nearly two years ago, the archdiocese launched a campaign that raised about $5 million in corporate and foundation gifts for tuition assistance at 15 Catholic schools in the city. Last year, 1,100 students received partial scholarships from the Partners in Excellence program, which is continuing.

Without the partnership, the city schools would most likely be losing more students, Valenti said.

Tuition undoubtedly affected enrollment in six city schools that were restructured nearly two years ago to consolidate some services while keeping the schools autonomous. Known as the Southeast Baltimore Catholic Academy, the schools eliminated a family plan" that gave significant tuition discounts to families with more than one child in a school.

Now, families must pay the same tuition -- $2,600 -- for each child, meaning some families would have large increases in tuition bills, said Christopher Russo, president of the academy.

Enrollment is down at five of those six schools, he said. The other one, Our Lady of Pompeii High School on South Conkling Street in East Baltimore, is full and has a sizable waiting list.

pTC Valenti said that part of the challenge in keeping the city's parochial schools strong is to find additional sources of scholarships to make Catholic education available to more youngsters there. The archdiocese is hoping to benefit from the Children's Scholarship Fund, a national $140 million fund that will award tuition grants to needy children in dozens of communities across the country who want to attend private and parochial schools.

Baltimore City youngsters will be eligible for those scholarships, which reportedly will range from $600 to $1,600, depending on a family's need.

"We're encouraged. The programs are working," Valenti said. "The idea of closing schools that's only a tool of last resort."

Catholic schools also receive financial aid from Cardinal William H. Keeler's annual Lenten Appeal and from the parishes that are affiliated with many of the elementary schools.

The archdiocese is hoping to address the suburban situation with a building program that will alleviate the overcrowding and waiting lists, especially in Anne Arundel, Harford and Frederick counties. "It's very, very clear that in these areas, the growth is going to be there," Valenti said.

The archdiocese is buying land on Waugh Chapel Road in Anne Arundel for an elementary school, likely to be the first of the new schools, and is drawing up plans.

No decision has been made on when construction would begin.

Pub Date: 11/13/98

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