Illinois school rolls back tuition, urges families to try Catholic education
By Penny Wiegert

.- News today about the economy usually includes the word “increase.” However, in a bold move to boost enrollment and keep a high quality west-side Catholic School viable, St. Bernadette pastor Father Kenneth Stachyra and school principal Elizabeth Heitkamp are using the words “decrease” and “roll-back.”

Last month principal Heitkamp presented a plan that decreases tuition rates at the school by almost 40 percent. In a letter to parents she said, “I am very excited to announce that St. Bernadette Catholic School is making Catholic Education more affordable for families. We have instituted a tuition roll back that takes our tuition rates back 10 years and reduces our current tuition by up to 40 percent!”

Heitkamp went on in the letter to explain how the school can afford to reduce tuition in such a sluggish economy.

“Our enrollment is decreasing, making it harder for us to continue to offer the necessary services to our students.

“By helping families to be able to afford our tuition, we are helping increase our enrollment. Increasing our enrollment allows us to maintain the quality of education we have given for over 50 years,” she wrote.

In a presentation to the parish and to parents, Heitkamp said adjustments to the budget had been made in the last few years to accommodate the lower enrollments and to maintain a reasonable budget for the parish, but she said, “we needed a new approach.”

Both St. Bernadette parish and school have seen a decrease in parishioners and students in the past 10 years. According to Dr. Michael Cieslak, director of the diocesan Office for Planning and Research, contributing to that decrease are the neighborhood demographics within the boundaries of the parish and school.

Cieslak reports that the neighborhood surrounding the parish has changed significantly due in part to the aging population, decreased family size and the severe downturn of the local economy.

The bottom-line, Heitkamp says, is that the school needs more students.

The Parish Finance Council, Father Strachyra, the Catholic Education Office, and even Bishop Thomas G. Doran have all given this tuition reduction plan their blessing and believe it is a creative way to get more students enrolled.

The new tuition structure is as follows:

Parish Families (including west-side parishes without schools)
1 child $1750
2 children $3500
3 or more $5250

Non Parish Families
1 child $2500
2 children $5000
Each additional child $2500

The new tuition rate will take effect for students enrolled for the 2011-12 school year. The new tuition rate is a price guarantee for two years.

“Tuition may increase slightly after that two-year period. But it is not our intent to return to our previous tuition levels,” Heitkamp said.

“Our finance council is trying to adjust to our demographic and our current demographic will not support the current rate. The support from the finance council and our parish is amazing and I am so appreciative,” she said.

Heitkamp has been principal at St. Bernadette for the past seven years and she has tried many creative and aggressive ways to recruit new students including marketing on television, radio and through print advertising. But the issue always comes back to finances she said.

“The Rockford metro area is fortunate to include several Catholic schools and we are thankful for the support of the parents who choose Catholic education and encourage them to continue in their current Catholic school. The object of St. Bernadette’s new tuition plan is not to pull students from their current parish home. The plan is to attract Catholic students from the public schools in and around St. Bernadette who may not have found the school affordable in the past and to help bring back students and families that may have left St. Bernadette for financial reasons,” said Superintendent of Diocesan Catholic Schools, Michael Kagan.

“If people walk the halls and talk to the staff and experience the positive atmosphere, I believe it will convince them to choose Catholic Schools,” Kagan said.

For a complete break-down of tuition, St. Bernadette boundaries and contact information for St. Bernadette school visit www.stbernadetterockford.com

Printed with permission from The Observer, newspaper for the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois.

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