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Diocese to eliminate high school subsidies The six face finding other funds or closing

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, operating this year with a $2.1 million deficit, will eliminate its annual subsidy to six area high schools by 2010 -- a move that could force the schools to find alternative funding sources or possibly close their doors.

The six high schools -- Bishop Timon-St. Jude, Notre Dame in Batavia, St. Mary's in Lancaster, Niagara Catholic in Niagara Falls, Archbishop Walsh in Olean and Cardinal O'Hara in the Town of Tonawanda -- received $2.6 million from the diocese for the 2006-07 academic year and more than $38 million since 1991.

Diocesan officials want to trim expenses and replace the subsidy with direct financial aid to families with children in Catholic high schools. The scholarships would be limited to students in the six former diocesan high schools, according to diocesan officials.

Diocesan officials want to trim expenses and replace the subsidy with direct financial aid to families with children in Catholic high schools. The scholarships would be limited to students in the six former diocesan high schools, according to diocesan officials.

But the financial aid won't measure up to current subsidy amounts, diocesan officials confirmed. The total amount of the scholarships will be determined in the spring.

"We don't know what that's going to be," said John P. Jakubowski, president of Notre Dame High School.

Notre Dame has about 200 students and relies on the diocese to cover a fifth of the cost of operations. While the school charges $4,725 in tuition, the actual cost per student $8,300, Jakubowski said.

The loss of the subsidy is "significant," he said.

"It certainly is going to hurt," Jakubowski said. "It's going to place more pressure on us to do fundraising, annual appeals to our alumni and benefactors of the school."

Raising tuition much higher could prevent some families from sending their children to the schools.

At $4,695 this year, tuition at Niagara Catholic is far below that of some of the area's private Catholic high schools.

But Principal Robert M. DiFrancesco isn't sure how much more families are able to pay.

"Niagara Falls is an impoverished community," he said. "We're always struggling for enrollment."

Niagara Catholic has about 200 students and currently gets $400,000 per year from the diocese.

Bishop Timon-St. Jude in South Buffalo gets $284,000, which the school uses primarily to provide financial aid. More than 60 percent of the 330 boys who attend Bishop Timon-St. Jude, which charges $6,050 in tuition, get some sort of assistance, said Principal Thomas J. Sullivan.

The school already has reached "a saturation point" in its ability to ask for more tuition from parents and has stepped up its efforts to raise funds from alumni and other benefactors, Sullivan said.

"We are going on the assumption we will not have anything" from the diocese, Sullivan said. "You can't sit back and expect the diocese to do it. They just don't have the resources any more."

Still, he added, "We don't want [the diocese] to abandon the city."

Despite the loss of diocesan money, high school officials said they will do what it takes to keep their schools operating.

The six high schools were run directly by the diocese until the early 1990s, when they became independent entities governed by their trustees. Nine other private Catholic schools, such as Canisius High School and Mount Mercy Academy, have run independent of the diocese for many years and do not receive any subsidy.

A plan was put in place to wean the former diocesan schools off the annual subsidies by 2001. That didn't happen, and the diocese's bleak financial picture has exacerbated the need to cut costs.

The diocese projects revenues of $10.8 million in its 2006-07 budget, while expenses are projected at $12.9 million.

It is the first time in two decades that diocesan officials approved a deficit budget, said Monsignor David Slubecky, vicar general for the diocese.

While revenues have remained flat or down slightly, the diocese has struggled the past two years with growing expenses.

The extra costs were related, in part, to "Journey in Faith & Grace," the diocesanwide planning effort aimed at restructuring schools and parishes.

The restructuring plan was announced in the summer of 2005, with diocesan officials putting off closures and asking parishioners to develop their own proposals.

Struggling schools and parishes, which might have been shut down in the past, remained open to allow the planning process to run its course. Those schools and parishes have ended up costing the diocese more than $2 million in emergency aid over the past two years.

Some of the aid went toward salaries in parishes and schools.

Emergency funds given out over the past two years will not be available again next year, Slubecky cautioned.

Diocesan officials said the central administrative offices of the diocese have already been pared down significantly in recent years.

Bishop Edward U. Kmiec was preparing to announce some results of the restructuring process within the next several weeks. Any parishes slated to be shut down or merged would be closed within three to six months after a formal announcement from the bishop.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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