Parochial schools attract students by keeping a careful eye on costs
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Teacher Kate Grissom works with Kylie Sawtelle during a recent eighth-grade math class at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church with School in Delavan. Terry Mayer/staff.
DELAVAN -- This fall, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church with School in Delavan is anticipating its largest kindergarten class -- 23 children -- and its preschool classes for 3- and 4-year-olds already are full.
That's good news in an economy that is making it more difficult for parents to choose a private education.
James Breytung, the school's minister of education, said enrollment for the 2009-'10 school year increased by five from the 2008-'09 year, to a current total of 184 students.
For many families, a parochial education remains an option because Walworth County schools are watching costs and finding new ways to fund their programs.
At Our Redeemer, the school reduced a full-time teacher to part-time status this year, in an effort, Breytung said, "to tighten the belt."
"We've been very conscious of spending," he said. "Our budget has always been pretty much no-frills. But sad to say, what we call 'extras' are still needed items, like computer upgrades."
While schools nationwide aren't immune to the effects of the economy, smaller parochial schools especially may be feeling the impact.
Parents facing job layoffs or cutbacks may find they can no longer afford the cost of private-school tuition for their children.
And the schools, dependent primarily on tuition fees rather than state taxes, are finding even incremental enrollment drops are hard on their budgets.
At Faith Christian School in Williams Bay, where student numbers have gone from 169 in 2008 to 150 in 2010, Administrator Craig Skrede said the school has looked hard at areas where it could trim costs to keep tuition affordable.
Some of the changes are relatively small, such as reducing the use of colored paper and switching to photocopies printed back-to-back. Other changes are bigger - from increasing student busing fees to cutting back the hours of a teacher. A major budget expense, employee health care, also was targeted, with coverage for full-time faculty restructured, Skrede said.
Skrede said the school board has also launched a campaign to solicit donations from alumni.
That's also part of a new marketing plan at St. Andrew's Elementary School in Delavan.
"Reaching out to former students and their families, that has been a big push," said Julie Kadrich, St. Andrew's principal, who noted the school is using a new marketing program created by the Schools Administration Office of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
"After a Christian education, students don't find college a rude awakening because they know how to study," said Curt Knudtson, whose eight children, ranging from 12 to 26, either currently attend or have attended Faith Christian School.
Knudtson's wife, Sue, said the financial sacrifice was worth it. "I stayed home, worked as a baby sitter," she said. "We did whatever we could to afford it."
Read the full story in the May 9, 2010 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, HERE.