Local News Archive
Print Issue: July 1, 1971
Archdiocese Schools Face Rising Costs, Falling Rolls
By Father Daniel O'Connor, Archdiocesan Secretary For Education
Problems facing the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta are basically similar to those of other American Catholic school systems, but different in magnitude.
This is one of the conclusions of a recent study of education in the archdiocese by the Office of Educational Research of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Principal author of the study was Dr. Kenneth M. Brown. Partly financed by the Kuhrt-Ryan Foundation of Atlanta, it was commissioned by the secretary for education of the archdiocese, Rev. Daniel J. O'Connor, and the Archdiocesan Board of Education.
The purpose of the study was to analyze economic factors relevant to policy decisions that will have to be made with respect to efficient and equitable allocation of resources in the archdiocese.
The first and most important problem facing the schools is rising costs, due mainly to the declining number of religious teachers, and to rising salaries for religious and lay teachers alike.
The second problem is that of declining enrollments, although this afflicts the schools of the Archdiocese of Atlanta to a lesser degree than it does Catholic schools in the rest of the nation.
Although some decline in patronage of Catholic parents to the schools, especially in suburban areas is noted, this is offset by the continued demand of Catholic education caused by an increasing Catholic population.
The study therefore predicts that enrollment in the elementary schools for the next few years will be essentially the same as it is at present. Catholic elementary enrollment reached a high of 6,667 in 1964. The low point was in 1969 when 5,189 students were enrolled. Enrollment for the past school year was 5,417.
According to the study, Atlanta is like the rest of the nation in the fact that the largest decline has been in the suburban areas, while urban Catholics have displayed a constant or perhaps growing support to Catholic schools.
What makes the Atlanta situation different is the fact that the decline in loyalty is much less than noted in other areas of the country and has been principally caused by the fact that the schools have deliberately cut back enrollment in order to reach pupil-teacher ratio necessary for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The study points out that average tuition charged by Atlanta schools had increased significantly during the past six years. Nevertheless, it appears that the tuition increases have thus far played a relatively minor role in whatever decline in enrollment has been experienced.
The is indicated by the enrollment levels over the past two years which are considerably above the trend line begun in 1965. This was at a time when tuition increases have been the steepest.
Because of the many variable factors involved, the study simply states that rapid decline in Catholic school enrollment is not likely in the immediate future. Enrollment in the elementary schools will probably hover somewhere in the 5,000 to 5,200 range.
Regarding costs, the study showed that the experience in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is the same as other parts of the country. The costs of operating the Catholic schools have risen dramatically and will continue to do so.
The study was based on financial figures of two school years, 1968-69 and 1969-70. The average cost of educating an elementary student in the year 1968-69 was $219. For the year 1969-70, this average had risen to $247, an increase of almost 13 percent.
The study says that although the increase will not be as large each year, operating costs will continue to rise and could be a low of $350 to a high of $400 per student by the school year 1975.
The largest single cause of the increase in costs has been significant increases in lay teacher's salaries. The average lay teacher's salary in 1968-69 was $4,600. In 1969-70, this had increased to over $5,500 and this year was over $6,200. Presuming a six percent increase each year, lay teachers will average $8,300 in 1975.
The particular problem facing Catholic education in the past years has been the significant decline in religious teachers or sisters. The financial contribution of religious teachers has been due to their low salaries and the relative low cost of maintaining convents for them to live in.
The magnitude of this contribution is steadily shrinking as the number of religious available for teaching continues to decline, and as the cost of maintaining them increasing dramatically.
The study estimates that the cost of maintaining religious teachers by 1975 will be $4,150 or 50 percent of lay salaries. It also estimates that only 20 percent of the teachers will be religious, compared to the present 40 percent.
These increased costs can be financed in only two ways, either through tuition paid by parents and subsidy paid by the total Catholic population. In 1969-70 an average of 19 percent of parish funds are used to subsidize schools. If costs increase by 50 percent in 1975 and tuition also increases by 50 percent, the level of parish subsidy would have to be raised to an average of 23 percent to remain level.
The study questions whether enrollment could be maintained at its present level if tuition were increased by 50 percent. Lower tuition would mean that subsidy would have to be larger, and would take a larger fraction of parish revenues.
If tuition were to increase by only 25 percent in 1975, the total subsidy from parishes would have to rise to an average of 29 percent or $968,000 per year.
The conclusion of the study is that maintaining the school system at current levels of enrollment and quality will significantly increase the financial burden on parishes.
The study devoted relative little space to the Catholic high schools of Atlanta, as there are only two diocesan high schools, St. Pius X and St. Joseph. A third Catholic high school, the Marist School, is a private institution, and is not subsidized by the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
St. Joseph High School is a downtown high school and there is a likelihood that in the next few years, its location may be moved. Consequently, the study felt that its future could be discussed with only a degree of accuracy.
The enrollment at St. Pius X is not expected to change from its present 750 students. The reason is that there is a considerable excess demand for enrollment at its current tuition, and this could provide insurance against enrollment declines even if tuition was raised.
The cost per student for educating a student at St. Pius X was $335 in 1968-69, and $404 in 1969-70, an increase of 19 percent. In the same year 1969-70, a deficit of $92,472 at the high school was met by diocesan subsidy. This subsidy is assessed of the various metropolitan Atlanta parishes whose boys and girls of high school age are able to use the school.
The rate of increase in the cost at St. Pius has risen sharply over the past two years due mainly to an adjustment in the salary schedule of high school teachers. Should the present subsidy (1971) of $72,000 be kept at that level, as has been suggested, and the increase in costs held to 10 percent a year, the cost per student in 1975 would have to be over $700.
Children in the archdiocese not enrolled in Catholic schools receive their religious instruction in parish schools of religion. One of the unique aspects of the Atlanta study was that the cost of operating parish schools of religion were studied as well as the costs of Catholic schools.
The purpose was to give parish Boards of Education some idea of the comparative costs of the two institutions, should some parishes feel that they could no longer afford to operate the parish school.
Two different approaches were used. The first was to compare the costs of operating school of religion in parishes that already have parish schools. Because in all cases the school of religion used the parish school facilities, only marginal costs were counted.
The average cost per student per hour for the school of religion came to $0.30. This compared to the cost per hour in the elementary schools of $0.24, or approximately the same.
Because the costs of operating schools of religion have risen enormously in the past two years, in an effort to increase the quality of the instruction, the study concluded that the cost per hour is now higher in the school of religion than in the parish school.
It points out, however, that religious instruction is only part of the parish school program, which implies that the cost per hour of religious instruction is considerably higher in the elementary school.
The study also approached the costs of schools of religion from another aspect, that of the parish that operates a school of religion only. They used the figures of Holy Cross parish, because it had the most elaborate program.
The figures for the school year 1969-70 showed total expenditures of $24,511 or a cost per student of $15.40.
This cost was considerably greater than that of most parishes that also operate a parish school.
The study also attempted to consider what would happen if a parish were to close its elementary school and use the building for the school of religion. Total costs per student were then estimated to be $30 per student or about one-third of the current total cost of the elementary schools.
But the study noted that this figure was extremely sensitive to the amount of money paid to teachers. It said that if each of the 23 religion centers with more than 100 students in 1970-71 were to add one teacher at a salary of $7,000, total costs would increase by $161,000, or more than 30 percent.
It pointed out that the schools of religion are in exactly the same position with regard to contributed services that the parish schools were years ago. Per-pupil costs are low, but are subject to rapid growth if volunteers are replaced with paid teachers.
According to Father O'Connor, no immediate steps will be taken to implement the results of the study. The Archdiocesan Board of Education and parish boards of education will consider the implications of the study in the fall, and use them in long-range planning for the diocese's education program.