The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

St. Edward School in Little Rock rallies for sustainability

Parish, community join to keep school open another year

Published: May 24, 2018   
Aprille Hanson
St. Edward students show off paper roller coasters made during a STEM project while participating in a twice-monthly club activity. The school is re-structuring its finances and seeking sustainability.

A funding deficit at St. Edward School in Little Rock is being resolved thanks to the efforts of parishioners, parents, neighboring parishes and friends of the school.

On April 30 Bishop Anthony B. Taylor celebrated a Mass (click here for homily) and held a town hall meeting for the parish and school where the financial difficulties were detailed.

“The future of the school depended on us acting now to restructure the school in order to ensure its long-term viability,” according to the bishop.

By the end of the current school year, the school will have received $322,000 of outside funding. These funds will come from the budgeted subsidy from the parish ($70,000), spending the last of the school endowment ($231,067) and an additional transfer from the parish savings ($20,701).

“The bottom line is we will open next year because of the generosity of a lot of people.” Father Greg Luyet

If they kept the same staffing and structure, the school would then need another $300,000 to balance the budget for the 2018-2019 school year but would not have an endowment fund to draw from to cover any shortfalls.

At the April 30 meeting, parishioners and parents were presented with the possibility that the school could close “if no path to financial viability is found.”

Superintendent Vernell Bowen, who will retire June 30, and associate superintendent Theresa Hall both have a strong connection to the school as they both worked there before being hired by the diocese. Hall was a teacher and principal for 23 years and Bowen was the principal for nine years.

Bowen said, “It’s been difficult for the staff because they are a family.”

Hall added it was difficult to think of some teachers losing their jobs.

“They are a strong staff,” she said. “They are just great teachers … It is important for the parents to realize that they are still there, the family is still there.”

After the April 30 meeting, at least three Catholic parishes offered to donate money or raise money through their alumni and parents. Christ the King Parish in Little Rock committed $100,000, with $50,000 given immediately and another $50,000 to be given in the next school year. Students at Christ the King School donated $7,000 from collections during all-school Masses from the past two school years.

On May 18 and 20 St. Theresa School in Little Rock held tamale sales to benefit St. Edward. St. Edward Church also held tamale sales to raise $10,000. On May 22 a Day of Giving was hosted by Catholic High School to generate donations from alumni.

Pastor Father Greg Luyet said an anonymous donor will match all donations received since April 30 up to $100,000. He reported the school had collected $90,000 from various sources as of May 20. Junior high social studies teacher Branson Shaffer started a GoFundMe account online where friends and former students have donated an additional $38,000 so far.

“The GoFundMe … has been very positive working in our favor,” principal LaTonya White said. “So we’re very excited about that … it was our efforts to think outside the box, to really connect beyond our reach, with our alums, those who love St. Edward … That’s been one of our main drives.”

A second meeting was held May 21 for all parishioners and parents to share details of a plan for the school’s long-term sustainability that includes some hard staffing and financial decisions. For the 2018-2019 school year, the school will not have a principal and will be overseen by the Office of Catholic Schools. The day-to-day leadership will be handled by two lead teachers. Associate superintendents Theresa Hall and Marguerite Olberts will primarily take care of the budget and handle discipline and personnel issues as needed. Teaching positions for art, music, physical education, Spanish and computers will be cut, but the subjects will be continue to be taught by the classroom teachers. Other staff cuts to the office, janitorial services and cafeteria will also be made. Parents receiving financial aid will be asked to contribute volunteer hours to handle some of the cafeteria and janitorial services.

“The bottom line is we will open next year because of the generosity of a lot of people,” Father Luyet said. “It has brought out an increased dedication from some people who didn’t even think about the school. It has brought more of an awareness and desire to help and support the school.”

Father Luyet will begin his new position as prefect of the House of Formation in August. Incoming pastor Father Juan Manjarrez has been active in the discussions this spring and attended the April 30 and May 21 meetings.

White said the school currently has 16 full-time and eight part-time faculty members and staff for 143 students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.

Over the past five years enrollment has decreased about 20 students, White said. The drop in enrollment was not the only factor in the financial problems. White said the parish has tried to keep tuition affordable, but 60 percent of students received some financial aid, including the state’s Succeed Scholarship.

“I would say a lot of that has contributed to the financial (situation), families aren’t able to afford tuition and (we have) the limited resources for tuition assistance. I would also say the rise of charter schools, especially in our area. Those are the contributing factors.”

For this school year and next school year tuition rates were not increased; however, the tuition structure will change so that students who are not active members of the parish will likely have to pay more in the fall. Currently, all Catholics pay the same rate, whether they are parishioners or not and whether they attend Mass and live their faith or not. 

White said the 130-year-old school is poised to continue to offer a unique Catholic education to central Arkansas. The school is 53 percent Hispanic. Seventy-nine percent of the students are Catholic. The school also serves many students with learning disabilities.

“I would have to say just the unique experience of interacting with the different cultures, the diversity, the family atmosphere, the compassionate and caring people and children we serve, that is what makes the day,” White said.

“The unique thing about us is we have over at least 20 different zip codes that we draw students from since we are downtown; many of our families select us because of where they’re employed and the easy accessibility to their employment,” she added.

White said the school is looking for other ways to generate more income.

 “We are currently seeking grants to support educational initiative that we are launching in the school,” she said “… We do receive grants for tuition assistance as well.”

Another effort that the school is participating in is a four-year Catholic School Management initiative through Catholic Extension to plan for long-term sustainability. That initiative was announced in January.

“That has been going very well where we are now centralizing a committee and the committee has been reviewing our foundational documents, such as our mission statement and our philosophy which we will adopt the diocesan philosophy for Catholic schools and the vision statement to come up with that. We have been working with the consultant … What growth opportunities do we have to really tap into to develop a strategic plan? So we’re in the beginning phase of creating the strategic plan to move us forward for a more sustainable future in the areas of marketing, enrollment, communication and development.”

White, who has led the school for the past four years, said St. Edward is a “gem of a school.”

“We’re forming future Catholic educators and priests, sisters and religious educators; we’re really serving a diverse student body as well as cultivating compassion with our Catholic faith,” she said. 

Aprille Hanson contributed to this article.

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