St. Wal­ter seeks ex­ten­sion

Fund­ing dead­line looms, but all hope is not lost

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Zak Koeske

Faced with an ul­ti­ma­tum by the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago this fall to raise $364,345 by Mon­day or be forced to close its doors, St. Wal­ter Catholic School launched a for­mi­da­ble fundrais­ing cam­paign aimed at sav­ing theMor­gan Park el­e­men­tary.

Through an eclec­tic mix of raf­fles, sales, din­ners and pri­vate do­na­tions, St. Wal­ter has raised more than $200,000 dur­ing the past two months, prin­ci­pal Sharon O’Toole said.

“We’re look­ing re­ally good,” she said Fri­day. “We’re very close to meet­ing our goal.”

In the next few days, the school will learn whether the amount it’s raised to date will be enough to war­rant a fundrais­ing ex­ten­sion fromthe arch­dio­cese.

O’Toole said she’d asked for an ex­ten­sion back in Novem­ber, shortly af­ter arch­dioce­san of­fi­cials vis­ited the school to dis­cuss the dead­line at a com­mu­nity meet­ing, but had not re­ceived a firm an­swer.

She said the arch­dio­cese’s su­per­in­ten­dent of schools told her that St. Wal­ter­would need to­come very close to its goal for him to con­sider an ex­ten­sion, but did not in­di­cate an ex­act dol­lar fig­ure.

A spokes­woman for the arch­dio­cese did not im­me­di­ately re­spond Fri­day to a re­quest for in­for­ma­tion about a pos­si­ble fundrais­ing ex­ten­sion for St. Wal­ter.

The arch­dio­cese’s $364,345 fundrais­ing goal for the school­was cal­cu­lated by es­ti­mat­ing its ex­pected op­er­at­ing deficit for this school year and next school year— $525,000 — and sub­tract­ing $160,655, to ac­count for an arch­dioce­san grant and the amount re­main­ing in St. Wal­ter’s en­dow­ment bank bal­ance, arch­dio­cese spokes­woman Anne Maselli said onWed­nes­day.

The pre-kinder­garten through eight grade school, which was founded in 1952, has — like many Catholic schools in the area — strug­gled with de­clin­ing en­roll­ment in re­cent years.

While St. Wal­ter al­ways has been a smaller parish and school— O’Toole said fam­i­lies of­ten con­sider the small class sizes an ad­van­tage be­cause they help fos­ter learn­ing and cre­ate a tight-knit school com­mu­nity — its num­bers have dropped pre­cip­i­tously in re­cent years.

The school cur­rently en­rolls 118 stu­dents, about half the num­ber it had just six years ago, she said.

O’Toole at­tributes the de­cline in en­roll­ment to the cost of Catholic ed­u­ca­tion —St. Wal­ter’s an­nual tu­ition is around $6,000— and the

rel­a­tive in­fre­quency of turnover in the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods.

“Peo­ple tend not to move out. They like the Bev­erly area. It’s awon­der­ful area to live in,” she said.

As the neigh­bor­hood ages, only a small num­ber younger fam­i­lies re­place the older ones and “it gets hard to fill not only our school, but other neigh­bor­hood schools,” O’Toole said.

St. Wal­ter, lo­cated at the south­west­ern bor­der of Chicago and Blue Is­land, at­tracts a di­verse ar­ray of stu­dents from 20 dif­fer­ent ZIP codes.

“We pride our­selves on our di­ver­sity,” O’Toole said. “Eth­ni­cally, we’re di­verse. We’re di­verse by our faith and we’re di­verse by our so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus.”

Ap­prox­i­mately half of St. Wal­ter’s stu­dents are Catholic and about 40 per­cent are el­i­gi­ble for free and re­duced lunch, she said. The stu­dent body is 52 per­cent black, 19 per­cent white, 15 per­cent mul­tira­cial and 14 per­cent His­panic.

Three-quar­ters of grad­u­ates go on to Catholic high schools. In re­cent years, St. Rita, St. Ig­natius, Mar­ian Catholic and Mother McAu­ley have been pop­u­lar choices, O’Toole said.

She said she didn’t think St. Wal­ter fam­i­lies were even think­ing about where to send their chil­dren next year if the school­was closed by the arch­dio­cese be­cause they’re so fo­cused on mak­ing sure the school stays open.

“They’re very hope­ful and prayer­ful that things will work out for us,” O’Toole said, adding that, if St. Wal­ter is spared, she’d need to get to work in­creas­ing en­roll­ment so the school doesn’t find it­self in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion down­the road.

The school will con­tinue to so­licit do­na­tions right down to the wire this week­end, as part of what O’Toole is call­ing “Big Dona­tion Week­end.”

Those in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing the school’s fundrais­ing ef­forts can do so by vis­it­ing its web­site, stwal­ter.org, and click­ing on the blue but­ton that ap­pears in the bot­tom left-hand cor­ner of the screen, or by buy­ing tick­ets for its Queen of Hearts raf­fle at Beg­gars Pizza in Blue Is­land, she said.

ST. WAL­TER CATHOLIC SCHOOL

St. Wal­ter El­e­men­tary School in Mor­gan Park has un­til Jan. 7 to demon­strate to the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago that it has raised the money nec­es­sary to cover its ex­pected op­er­at­ing bud­get for the next two years or it will be closed, of­fi­cials said.

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