This is the 20th year that St. Matthew School, Campbellsport, has offered preschool for 4-year-olds, but this year the school lost approximately three-fourths of its preschoolers to the public preschool. They lost families, too.

“It’s the families with three or more kids who suffer from it,” said principal Joan Schlaefer.

Touched by Guardian Angels

That’s why she developed the Guardian Angel Program, where others can sponsor a child or give partial tuition payments, based on a 12-month payment plan. Schlaefer sends out bulletin notices and writes letters to parishioners asking them to contribute. She fundraises for the program at the school’s annual dinner auction.

“We generally bring in $20,000-25,000 a night. I’ll ask them who will bid on a student’s tuition. We’ve made the bidding on a student’s tuition part of the auctioned items,” Schlaefer said.

Guardian Angel sponsors, like parishioner Charlotte Wilhelm, make the commitment because keeping Catholic schools open is important to them.
“I went through all Catholic schools: grade school, high school, and Marquette University,” Wilhelm said. “My children went through Catholic schools. I’m on the parish council and I see the costs. We could always use more Guardian Angels.”

Families who sponsor families for a full amount at St. Katharine Drexel School, Beaver Dam, are affectionately called the “Believer’s Club.” Though the school is part of a supportive community, principal Barbara Haase said Dodge County has been hit hard by the economy. This fall, 40 families needed tuition assistance, more than double what she has seen in the past. More than 40 children receive free meals through the government lunch program. The school has met the needs of its families thanks to a fund maintained by community organizations, benefactors and families.

“We work with them, stretch out the payment plan and do what we can. I just hope there’ll be enough groups and entities in the community that will continue to help those in need,” Haase said.

Retaining students a priority

Other schools have gone so far as to provide free tuition. St. Peter School, Slinger, developed a Five Year Plan, beginning with the 2009-2010 school year. Free tuition is offered to tri-parish members for the first two years, a one-third increase of the set tuition rate during the third year, two-thirds increase the fourth year, and a return to full tuition the last year.

“We won’t turn families away because of money,” said principal Virginia Miller. “We’ll work with them. We don’t want to leave any behind.”

Committed to retaining students, Consolidated Catholic Schools Lomira-Theresa is in its second year of offering free tuition to parishioners. The school lost at least half of its students in the past 10 years.

“We knew we wouldn’t get new families, so we made our focus on maintaining the families we have,” said Catherine Pohl, principal of Rosemary School in Fredonia. By offering reductions of $900 and $500 to their preschoolers who continue on to kindergarten, they hope to retain the three- and four-year-olds long-term.

While the school sets grants aside for those who have financial need, this year’s number of applicants surpassed previous years. When nearly 20 percent of the families attending Rosemary School requested financial assistance, the school presented the need to the parish, which held a second collection in August. Through parishioners’ support the school assisted all grant applicants and retained all of its students.

Parish resources have aided other schools as well, allowing them to offer tuition assistance to families in need. Holy Trinity School, Kewaskum,, receives a portion of its parish Faith in Our Future money for an Angel Fund.

Market a noun, verb

Several schools are marketing themselves and what they have to offer. A marketing effort in Beaver Dam is helping St. Katharine Drexel School be recognized as an essential part of the community. That effort utilizes bulletins, magazines and newspapers, Web site, yard signs and working with the city to put up street banners for Catholic Schools Week.

St. Leonard School’s efforts to be acknowledged as part of the Muskego community are paying off, as its enrollment increased this year. The school holds open houses, personal tours, and curriculum nights.

“We have to let people know what we have to offer,” principal Sue Watkinson said.

Combined with marketing and community efforts, St. Leonard Parish’s school committee is dedicated to keeping tuition increases as minimal as possible, even when it means no salary increases.

Utilizing Open Source Software saved St. Gabriel Catholic School, Hubertus, about $400,000 over the past four years. Open Source is available on the Internet for free and uses the operating system Linux instead of Microsoft Windows. With staff cooperation and the knowledge of a dedicated volunteer, the school maintains a state-of-the-art computer lab, SMART Boards, and keeping all of its programs intact. It hopes to be a model for other schools implementing Open Source.