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Restructuring will close 10 Catholic schools in Western New York

BUFFALO — Three years of research, collaboration and consultation culminated on Jan. 15, when the Diocese of Buffalo announced the implementation of “Faith in Tomorrow,” its strategic vision for Catholic elementary schools, which will result in the closure of 10 Western New York schools.

Bishop Richard Malone, bishop of Buffalo, said the diocese and The BISON Fund are collaborating on a plan to fund new scholarships for students who have applied to transfer out of low-performing Buffalo elementary schools.

“We are involved in preliminary discussions with the BISON Children’s Scholarship Fund, regarding a scholarship program which could potentially increase Catholic school enrollment and positively affect the future of our elementary schools,” Malone said.

“This will be a difficult decision for many to accept, but these reductions are necessary and will allow us to sustain and eventually strengthen our remaining Catholic elementary schools,” Malone said.

“I am grateful to the Catholic School Advisory Council, pastors, principals and other lay advisors, who spent a tremendous amount of time and effort, during this planning effort.

“I encourage families of closing schools to enroll in any other Catholic school, while remaining members of their current parishes. They will continue to qualify for the parishioner tuition rate at a school in another parish.”

The following schools will close at the end of the 2013-14 school year:

– Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, Elma

– Fourteen Holy Helpers School, West Seneca

– Our Lady of Pompeii School, Lancaster

– Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School, Orchard Park

– St. Bernadette School, Orchard Park

– St. Francis of Assisi School, Tonawanda

– St. Joseph School, Gowanda

– St. Leo the Great School, Amherst

– St. Mary of the Lake School, Hamburg

– St. Vincent dePaul School, Spring Brook

The remaining parish schools will begin to transition into “Community Schools,” governed by lay advisory boards of limited jurisdiction that will work with pastors on budgeting, administrative hiring and evaluation and other school operations.

“While demand for Catholic education remains strong, we are at a crossroads and our taxpaying families, many of whom are hurting financially [and] deserve help from Albany, in the form of passage of the Education Investment Tax Credit bill,” Malone said.

“This legislation would greatly reduce the need for further restructuring of our schools. State legislators from Buffalo and Western New York need to enact this proposal, as soon as possible.”

The tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for any person or business that makes a donation to public schools or private scholarships, which can be claimed on personal income tax or corporate tax forms.

It also provides a tax credit for individuals making direct monetary contributions to local education funds established to support a school or school district, and donations to pre-kindergarten programs, non-profit organizations providing educational programs in public schools and non-profit organizations that provide scholarships to public and nonpublic schools.

Nearly 2,200 people who took part in an online survey last November and December said they are looking for rigorous, faith-based learning, updated facilities, enhanced science and technology programs and they want to make sure that Catholic education remains available and affordable.

“We are addressing those concerns through STREAM and other programming,” said Carol Kostyniak, secretary for Catholic Education for the diocese. In addition, the Buffalo Diocesan Federation of Home School Associations was formed last November to coordinate parent education programs and work to provide resources for parents to use, when homeschooling.

Schools will work with their teachers or the union representing the teachers, where applicable, regarding the effects of the decision on staffing. The diocesan departments of Catholic schools and human resources will also be available to assist in the process.

“I want to thank the educators and lay leaders at the parish level who helped to develop the recommendations that are being implemented. The decisions were difficult, there’s no doubt about it, but they put the success of our students ahead of any parochial concerns, and that selflessness will result in even stronger Catholic schools in Western New York,” Malone said.

For more information about the school closings, the Diocese of Buffalo or where students may attend next year, contact the diocese at www.dioceseofbuffalo.org.
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