Tuesday, January 29, 2013

St. Joe's, Big Bend, School to stay open

from today's Waukesha Freeman -

Community vows to help keep St. Joseph school open
Efforts to reorganize volunteer efforts begin Thursday
Freeman Staff

BIG BEND – The closure of the lone Roman Catholic school serving the Mukwonago area looked certain last week, as more than 175 people flooded the cafeteria at St. Joseph Catholic School Feb. 24 to implore the Rev. Dick Robinson and his Pastoral Council to keep the school open.

If the school were to close, parents would be in a jam as far as busing was concerned and the Mukwonago area would lose its last Catholic school. St. James in Mukwonago closed in
2010, after 63 years of operation.

After the crowd had its say and Robinson announced that the meeting was over, people remained rooted in their seats. They didn’t budge, said Pastoral Council chairman Mike See, until the pastor assured them they would have an answer by noon the following

The announcement that the school would remain open, made Feb. 25 during the morning school Mass and through email, is the one they were hoping to hear. It provided an amazing sense of relief, said council member and parent Carrie Schanen.

Making a ‘tough decision’

Robinson announced the closure of the Milwaukee Avenue school to parents and council members Jan. 22, citing the financial situation during the past several years and other factors for his decision.

“He was trying to make a tough decision to relieve others of the stress of having to make a tough decision,”
said See. The move surprised some of the council members, including Schanen, who has four students in the school.

“This is the time of year when we are starting to prepare
next year’s budget,” she said. “I fully expected to walk into the building Tuesday and talk about budgets and teacher contracts.”

The announcement startled
vice chair David Kirner as well.

“It was totally unexpected,” he said. “Though I understand where he was
coming from.”
Some of the factors that have strained the school include declining enrollment, a necessary repair of the gymnasium roof and a reduction in parent and community volunteers.

The school had also experienced declining enrollment, See said, with a nearly 50 percent reduction in its student population from 2000 until 2006.

In each year since, the numbers have remained steady at approximately 125 students.

Though the parish received financial contributions and donations of time and labor for the roof repair, it still footed $67,000 of the $80,000 bill, which is a significant cost, See said.

A resounding response

Unsure of how they should interpret declining volunteerism, the Pastoral Council received a resounding answer during Feb. 24’s parent meeting. Those who showed up said they were surprised that the school was in such dire straits.

“They had questions and concerns,” Schanen said. “They wondered why they hadn’t been informed sooner that the situation was approaching this level, and if we could have had meetings on what to do about it.”

Many of those in the cafeteria volunteered their time and talents, See said, and related that they are willing to serve on the committees that will develop strategies to keep the school open. These could involve plans for marketing, recruitment and finance.

“It hasn’t been a lack of interest (that caused volunteerism to drop),” See said. “It’s been a lack of time.”

Given the bad economy, the chairman said, parents have had to work more hours to make ends meet. When they found out that their school was in peril, however, the community expressed a desire to do what it could to help St. Joseph meet its needs.

“They came with gusto,” Schanen said. “They came with their rally caps on.”

“There was enough enthusiasm and passion
displayed at the meeting to convince us the future will be bright as long as we have active volunteers involved in the parish,” See added.

The first meeting to reorganize the volunteer efforts and develop committees will be Thursday. Also, as part of National Catholic Schools Week, which runs through Saturday, the school is hosting an open house Friday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.. At this event, parents can observe live instruction.

Efforts like the open house will go a long way toward getting the message out that St. Joseph is a special place, said Schanen.


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