" We’ve got to remove the financial wall that keeps Catholic children out of our schools. " — Archbishop Alexander Sample
Alan Meitler presented findings from a survey of archdiocesan schools’ enrollment and finances as well as area growth to local Catholic school leaders Sept. 27 in Hillsboro. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Alan Meitler presented findings from a survey of archdiocesan schools’ enrollment and finances as well as area growth to local Catholic school leaders Sept. 27 in Hillsboro. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
HILLSBORO — The population within the Archdiocese of Portland is growing and of those enrolled in first Communion preparation, only 16 percent are enrolled in Catholic schools archdiocese-wide. This comes from a recent archdiocesan schools strategy report.

If the goal is to get more kids in schools, and the question is “Are there more Catholic kids to get?” then the answer is yes, Rick Pendergast, consultant for the Meitler consulting group, told a gathering of the archdiocese’s educators and school leaders.

The group was hired by the archdiocese to assist in developing a strategic plan for the future of Catholic schools in western Oregon.

After months of collecting data from each school, the findings were presented to school leaders who were convened at St. Matthew Parish here Sept. 27.

“[The data] helps us take an honest look at ourselves,” Alan Meitler, vice president for the consulting group, told the crowd. “It grounds us in reality and the analysis of the information gives us an idea of where we might have to go.”

The statistics gathered included a survey of expected population growth, the current enrollment statistics in the parochial and private Catholic schools, as well as financial data for those schools.

An examination of the schools’ finances showed that revenue flowing into the schools is primarily tuition-based.

The question to ask going forward is whether the model for funding the Catholic schools in the archdiocese is viable now and whether it can generate the revenue needed for the archdiocesan vision, said Meitler.

“In many ways, you’re in a pretty good position,” he said. “But there are some real important strategic questions to think about so that 10 years from now, you feel you’re even in a better position.”

Meitler pointed out that parishes are contributing a small fraction of the revenue for the schools. Calling it a form of tuition-assistance, the consultant asked schools to consider how that support is used and how it should be used. He left the answer to school leaders themselves.

Looking at expenditures, Meitler considered teacher compensation, tuition rates, costs per pupil, tuition increases and more.

One of the themes from the report was whether there is enough funding. For families who have not chosen Catholic schools for financial reasons, Meitler said there are two things happening. Either families have a problem with the tuition rate or schools’ marketing or funding is presenting a barrier.

“How much funding should we have for financial assistance?” Meitler asked the group to take this and other questions back to the school communities to discuss.

Holy Cross Brother William Dygert, superintendent of archdiocesan Catholic schools, told the crowd that the schools are in a good position right now, and that the plan is to keep the schools in that good position.

“Educators talk today about fixed mindset and growth mindset,” said Brother William. “Well, we have a growth mindset. We know that we can always get better, no matter how good we are. And we can get better for more people.”

The findings from the report were used to develop “A Vision for the Future for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Portland” statement. A clear Catholic identity, excellence in preparing students spiritually, intellectually, morally and physically, and availability and accessibility were all goals included within the document.

“For me so far, one of the biggest findings in all of this is … how small a share of the Catholic quote-unquote market we are reaching in our schools,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said to those gathered. “That’s where the potential is. That’s where, I think, we need to go. I think we need to capture more of the potential that’s there in the Catholic community and get them in our schools and make our schools accessible to them. I really believe that.”

The local church leader went on to emphasize how highly he values Catholic education in forming Christ’s disciples.

“My goal is that no Catholic parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school will be denied that opportunity because of an inability to pay,” said the archbishop. “We’ve got to remove the financial wall that keeps Catholic children out of our schools.”

The same report also was presented to school leaders in Eugene Sept. 28.



sarahw@catholicsentinel.org