UPDATE: Holy Name officials released a statement Thursday emphasizing that the statements in the draft are just proposals designed to initiate discussion and additional options for schools.
“As of today it is business as usual,” the statement read. Both the school and the parish are open and working diligently on plans for the 2012-13 school year and beyond, school officials said.
Sofia Kock, principal of Holy Name, said the announcement of draft proposals was premature. “We’re putting out a lot of fires today,” she said Thursday.
She said school leaders have better options to recommend and are hoping for a different outcome. Holy Name is an anchor in northeast Omaha, and it would be a travesty to close it, Kock said.
The school encouraged parishioners and others who want to share information about Holy Name’s strengths and the place the school and parish hold in their lives to contact the consulting firm, Meitler Consultants, or the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools.
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A first draft of a plan for Catholic schools mostly east of 72nd Street proposes closing six elementary schools and placing a half-dozen mostly southeast Omaha schools in a system with a common school board and executive director.
The draft was prepared as part of a strategic planning effort that the Omaha Archdiocese launched last summer.
Officials shared the draft Tuesday and Wednesday nights with representatives of Omaha Catholic schools, said Deacon Tim McNeil, the archdiocese's chancellor.
McNeil stressed that the draft represents a "first attempt at discussing possible options."
"This is a vetting process," he said. "What was submitted and talked about is subject to change. It's our intent to get stakeholders to discuss what could be, what might be and what shouldn't be. It's highly subject to change."
The final report will be submitted to Omaha Archbishop George Lucas in April.
Lucas will discuss it with advisers and decide whether to implement all or parts of the plan, McNeil said. He'll also consider time frames.
The planning effort, led by a Wisconsin-based firm, is intended to address challenges that the archdiocese faces in urban areas, including changing demographics, increasing costs and aging facilities.
Under the draft, All Saints, Holy Ghost, St. Joan of Arc, Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Stanislaus schools would close by 2013, McNeil said.
Holy Name School also would close, according to the report, though no timetable was set.
Students from the schools that would close by 2013 would be encouraged to attend Catholic schools in a six-school system that would be set up no later than July 2013.
The draft lists two options for the makeup of the system. Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Bernadette (in Bellevue), St. Gerald (in Ralston) and St. Thomas More are included under both options. One option includes Assumption-Guadalupe School and the other St. Mary School, formerly the site of St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High School.
McNeil said the schools would have principals reporting to a common school board and executive director. Pastors would serve on the board and continue to have some oversight, but the schools would no longer be under parish control.
The system would have centralized financing, which could eliminate competition among schools for enrollment and fundraising, he said. A school system also would offer greater consistency in academic quality and equity in distributing resources.
The schools could have a common tuition system, he said, although no numbers have been proposed.
The draft also calls for one of the school sites to have additional offerings for Hispanic students and families, McNeil said.
That might include bilingual services and special attention to Hispanic cultures. However, Hispanic families would be made to feel welcome at all of the schools.
Catholic schools in what the archdiocese calls the urban northeast — Sacred Heart, St. Bernard, St. Cecilia, St. Margaret Mary, St. Philip Neri and St. Pius/St. Leo — would remain parish schools for at least five years, McNeil said.
If the new six-school system is successful, he said, those northeast schools could be brought into that fold. He said he has seen no mention of a common tuition for northeast schools.
The strategic planning effort focuses on 18 elementary schools and 37 parishes, most east of 72nd Street.
According to the draft, enrollment at those schools in kindergarten through eighth grade declined by 29 percent, or almost 1,000 students, from the 2005-06 school year to the current academic year.
Eight of the 18 schools in the study area now enroll fewer than 150 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The report said school enrollment of less than 200 is not sustainable for the long term.
According to the draft, Holy Name enrolls 147 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, which is 73 percent of the capacity it is staffed to serve.
A facilities study indicates that the Holy Name school building will need renovation and repairs within the next 10 years estimated to cost more than $5 million.
Development efforts at the school now must raise $300,000 a year to enable the parish to sustain the school financially.
McNeil emphasized that the current draft will be the first of several. Archdiocese officials expect — and encourage — people to come back before meetings in March with alternatives and other models.
Archdiocesan officials expect a passionate discussion, he said, and it has been a civil one so far.
Before coming to Omaha, Lucas consolidated Catholic schools in Quincy, Ill. He also rejected a proposal to consolidate Catholic schools in Springfield, Ill., after parents opposed it.
But he directed schools and parishes in Springfield to work together more on planning and marketing and to otherwise cooperate.
"Should people overreact now?" McNeil said. "No. But parts of this plan will change and parts will not."
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