St. Walter seeks extension
Funding deadline looms, but all hope is not lost
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 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.