By Gabriella Polsinelli
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Dozens of upset families gathered Thursday night at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Church in Rosedale to hear and question the Archdioceses of Baltimore’s superintendent on the recent announcement to close three catholic schools and merge two.
The crowd raised several questions and wanted to know how the changes will affect their children and why they did not get a say in the plan before it was announced. Parents also asked who was in charge, and they complained that this was the third school change for some students.
The meeting was held one week after the archdioceses announced the closures.
Church officials said the decision was made after an 18-month study of 22 Baltimore-area Catholic schools found that some facilities were experiencing declining enrollment, unfit buildings, and a lack of updated technology and space to achieve academic excellence.
The study estimated that the archdiocese would have to spend $86 million to improve the condition and efficiency of the educational facilities in the area.
The study also “identified areas of projected population growth where the Catholic school system could meet a growing need,” according to the archdioceses’ statement.
The archdiocese is no stranger to school closings. In 2010, it announced the closure of 13 schools in the greater Baltimore area.
The decision to close John Paul Regional Catholic School, St. Thomas Acquinas Catholic School, and Seaton Keough Catholic High School and merge St Clement and St. Michael Catholic schools was announced on Oct. 26.
Superintendent Barbara Edmondson said that though she realizes the closures and merger will leave parents unhappy, the archdiocese is looking to the future.
“This planning process was not easy,” Edmondson said. “But we are looking at the concern for the children. More space for classes, technology, robust learning centers, a gymnasium and auditorium. This is the education the children need.”
Edmondson said she was aware that the merger between St. Clement’s and St. Michael’s in particular would cause some hardships.
“We are mainly trying to ensure that students have all the things they need to receive the well-rounded education they deserve,” Edmondson said. “This is an upgraded facility for St. Clement. We need to join together in order to do better. I cannot hold parents’ hands as we move forward with this.”
Edmondson said that though St. Clement had a 15 percent higher enrollment than St. Michael’s, the merge will still relocate to the St. Michaels facility. Because of this, Edmondson said, St. Clement families that participate in the merger will receive the same tuition rate they received previously, along with possible assistance on uniforms and the option of bus shuttles to the school, which is 3.8 miles away from St. Clement.
Many families, like Matt Castle’s, said they are worried that this merger will destroy the strong community that surrounds Rosedale.
“Yes, St. Clement is a school, but there’s a whole lot more that goes around it,” Castle said. “We are the school, the local fire department, the parish, the yearly carnival. Without this school, you can say goodbye to all of that. They are forgetting that we are more than a school, we are a family and many of us have bought our homes, changed our jobs and changed our schedules based upon the location of this school.”
Jason Karolkowski, the vice president of the St. Clement’s Home School Association, said he is worried that the fundraising and dedication the parents have invested in this school community will be dismissed.
“We get that we have to move forward, but how will our parents be represented,” Karolkowski said. “We don’t know who our contact is for this, and we realize that St. Michael’s has their own Home School Association but what about us what we have worked so hard for here.”
St. Clement School began in 1932 and is the educational home to many lines of family alumni. Those involved in these deep-rooted relationships worry that soon it will all be forgotten.
The faculty and staff of St. Michael’s and St. Clements’s will meet together for the first time on Nov. 23. The archdiocese has no confirmation as to whether every faculty member will be able to keep their position once the merger is finalized.