Holy Family Catholic Schools leaders are weighing community feedback as they consider the possibility of closing one or two elementary schools.
About 100 community members attended a meeting Thursday night to discuss proposals to end elementary-school operations at Holy Ghost Elementary School, St. Anthony Elementary School’s English-based program or both for the 2020-2021 school year. Students at those schools would be moved to other Holy Family campuses.
System leaders are gathering feedback before Holy Family’s Board of Education is expected to make a decision in October.
“It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, but we have to have a future for our kids and their kids, so that they have the same opportunities that we’re providing for our children,” said system Chief Administrator Phillip Bormann.
Bormann on Thursday laid out for families and other members of the system community the rationale for the proposals.
Both Holy Ghost and St. Anthony serve fewer than 80 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and enrollment at the two schools has fallen over the past several years.
At the same time, facilities needs at the elementary and early childhood centers have been increasing and require “significant” investment, Bormann said.
“All Holy Family parish-owned sites need substantial renovations,” Bormann said. “We cannot renovate these buildings to the extent that they’re going to be renovated and find out their (use will change in the future).”
System officials also seek to provide some relief to the subsidies provided by local parishes, which have remained steady and even increased in the past three years, even as church attendance has gone down.
“They’re facing the same issues that we do,” Bormann said. “They have declining attendance, declining participation in parish life, and more and more, they come to us every year and say, ‘We can’t pay like we’ve been paying.’”
Holy Family officials say they could save about $400,000 annually by closing one school and $800,000 by closing both. System leaders also believe the moves could help them focus their plans for facility renovations, as well as their academic supports at the remaining school sites.
Sam Heston, of Dubuque, said he understands the decisions Holy Family has to weigh, particularly when looking at the facility needs at the different elementary schools.
“I think I’m more surprised at what seems like the amount of disrepair the buildings are in,” said Heston, who added that he plans to eventually send his children to Holy Family.
He said he would like to see Holy Ghost and St. Anthony remain open, but he realizes that would be difficult without increased enrollment.
“You almost wish there was more of a focus on obtaining new students,” he said.
Jake Meyer, who has a son at Holy Ghost, said he worries that if one or more elementary school program were to end, it would be harder for the system to grow its student population because its footprint will be smaller. He also is concerned about families leaving the system if their school is closed.
“Whichever school or schools they decide to impact, there will be a large number that will go into the public system,” he said.
Meyer noted that enrollment at Our Lady of Guadalupe Spanish Immersion Program, which would not be impacted by the proposals, has been rising. He wondered if perhaps, instead of ending programs, Holy Family officials could create similar niche programs at other campuses to increase enrollment.
“What are they doing to draw people in?” he asked. “This could be that opportunity.”
Joey Lueck, who has three children at Holy Ghost, echoed that sentiment.
“Has anyone considered a fourth proposal: keep all the schools open, mimic something like (Our Lady of Guadalupe) is doing, offer something different?” he asked.
Bormann told families Thursday that officials have received hundreds of pieces of feedback about their proposals.
“The entire board has been reading all of your responses in time,” Bormann said. “We’ve shared this with them, and they’re up to date.”