St. Bernadette Catholic Academy officials and Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton are examining a series of options designed to prevent the school from closing its doors at the end of the year.
Sexton, principal Arlene Baumann and the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, St. Bernadette’s pastor, met Thursday to discuss ways in which $500,000 could be raised to keep the school open.
“I’m really not at liberty to discuss the options,” Sexton said.
Sexton called for the meeting after parents were informed on Jan. 10 by the Archdiocese of Chicago that the 64-year-old school would be closed due to struggling finances. The news was delivered by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, at a parents-only meeting in the school hall. Sexton attended the meeting at a parent’s request.
Sexton said the school, which has experienced declining enrollment over the past few years, needs $500,000 to remain open for the next three years. The school currently has less than 100 students.
The school, 9311 S. Francisco Ave., must look to large donations rather than fundraising within the parish community in order to achieve the goal, he said.
“We’re looking to get some partnerships with some people,” said Sexton, who would not identify potential business partners. “You’ve got to come up with a couple big donors.”
Sexton admitted that raising a significant amount of money in a short period of time will be difficult, but is not ready to give up on the school’s future.
“Never say never,” he said.
Archdiocesan officials said that financial plans must be submitted by Friday.
Pazdan could not be reached for comment, and Baumann was hesitant to discuss the meeting.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said.
She added that raising money to keep the doors open for another year is not sufficient and likely would not be approved by the diocese, which she described as “cautious” about plans to save schools slated for closure.
“To come up with money for one year is not enough. We’ve got to wait and see.”
She added that the school would require long-term marketing and financial plans to keep it sustainable for several years.
“If something happens, I’ll be dancing down 95th Street,” Baumann quipped.
Over the past five years, the Chicago Archdiocese has contributed more than $100 million to operate its school system over and above what local parishes contributed. Continued support at that level is unsustainable, the diocese said in a statement.
The families of the 775 children affected by the closures of St. Bernadette and five other elementary schools will be encouraged to transfer their children to nearby Catholic schools and offered tuition discounts to offset any inconvenience, the diocese said.