As the financially struggling Archdiocese of Philadelphia looks to a private foundation to manage its high schools, it should take a close look at the city public schools’ venture into similar waters to avoid the same mistakes.
Beginning Sept. 1, the Faith in the Future Foundation will take over management of 17 Catholic high schools and four special-education schools. It will become the first independently run Catholic system in the country. Grade schools will still be managed by the parishes.
The massive restructuring will starkly change how Catholic schools in the region operate. The move speaks volumes about the willingness of the archdiocese to try a different approach to maintain the viability of Catholic education. The school system has been hard-hit by declining enrollment due to changing demographics as well as budget deficits.
The archdiocese should look for lessons learned by Philadelphia and other public-school systems, which have had mixed results with private management companies. Under a five-year agreement, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput plans to play an active role to ensure the schools maintain their core mission and Catholic identity.
Chaput’s guiding hand may help ease some of the angst triggered earlier this year when the diocese said it would close four high schools and 45 elementary schools. Fund-raising saved all but six schools, but many believe the reprieve may be temporary. A telling sign may be how well the foundation does in reaching its goal to raise $100 million in five years.