CINCINNATI — Ohio Catholic parishioners are forming regional schools that draw children from multiple parishes as falling enrollments and rising operating costs have caused school closings in recent years.
Cincinnati’s 19-county archdiocese, one of the largest in the nation, saw enrollment fall 17 percent in the past decade at its 102 elementary schools and 22 high schools.
About one in 10 elementary schools that existed 10 years ago is no longer open today, and archdiocese leaders are warning that schools with enrollments of fewer than 200 may pose too great a financial burden on parishes.
Catholic schools nationwide have for years suffered from drops in enrollment and tightened financial assistance from parishes, especially in older urban and suburban neighborhoods.
In the Cincinnati area, parishes in Hamilton and Butler counties have responded by creating the regional elementary schools.
The archdiocese has merged and consolidated schools in the past. But the new regional schools are aiming more for consensus among parents and parishioners who are taking the initiative in organizing the schools, instead of waiting for an order from the archdiocese.
“What you see is schools trying to take control of their future, rather than waiting for the future to hit them in the head with a club,” said archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco. “It’s not about saving themselves. It’s about cementing the best possible future for Catholic education.”
St. John the Evangelist in Deer Park and Holy Trinity in Norwood, for example, opened one inter-parish school in August with 262 students. Three other groups of parishes are discussing setting up similar regional schools.
The process is further along in the Dayton area, where five parishes folded their schools into Mary Queen of Peace, a regional school that opened last year. In Springfield, four schools were folded into one — Catholic Central.
Parishes in Toledo, Columbus, Youngstown and other dioceses in Ohio have also consolidated schools in recent years, said Carolyn Jurkowitz, an education lobbyist at the Catholic Conference of Ohio in Columbus.
The eight-county Cleveland diocese in northeast Ohio is expected to reduce the number of parishes by as much as 20 percent in the next three years because of a population shift to the suburbs.
But because the closings are in the planning stages, it’s not clear whether a church would be closed or merged while its affiliated school stays open. The diocese has 119 elementary schools and 22 high schools.