Cardinal Gibbons School, named for Baltimore's archbishop… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
Officials of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will hold meetings around the city on Monday to face parents and students angered by plans to close 13 Catholic schools in June.
The sessions are scheduled for 7 p.m. at Catholic High School of Baltimore on Edison Highway, Mount St. Joseph High School on Frederick Avenue and the Cardinal Gibbons School on Wilkens Avenue. Cardinal Gibbons is the only high school among those slated to close.
Monsignor Bob Hartnett, who has been in charge of school consolidation planning, emphasized that officials understand the angry response since news of the closings broke Wednesday afternoon.
"I think we need to listen to all those concerns," Hartnett said Thursday. But he also said: "I don't see us changing any of our decisions."
He said the archdiocesan offices downtown have received more phone calls than e-mails since the news broke. He said there's been a "steady number of calls. Most of them are angry." Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese, described the volume of calls and emails as "light" and their tone as "tempered but hopeful."
A group of 11 Cardinal Gibbons students and one graduate of the school showed up at the Catholic Center downtown in the morning asking to speak with Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien. He was not in, but the group met for about an hour with Bishop Denis J. Madden, Caine and Mary Ellen R. Fise, the program director for Catholic schools planning.
While they were inside, a group of Gibbons students stayed outisde on Cathedral street "chanting and waving signs," Hartnett said.
On the day after students were sent home with letters to parents detailing the closings, Hartnett said early this afternoon that it seemed "students are in classrooms, teachers are teaching."
Lay members of the archdiocesan staff visited all 13 schools on Thursday to answer questions and "talk to any students who are upset." He said they would be at the schools all day, and might return if the need arises.
The archdiocese told employees and parents on Wednesday that it would close 13 of its 64 schools at the end of the academic year.
The reorganization will displace 2,152 students and 325 teachers, staff and administrators. The displaced students, who make up nearly 10 percent of the 22,700 in the system, will be guaranteed a spot in a parochial school no more than five miles from their current school, but it's not yet clear how many employees will lose their jobs.
The reorganization includes the creation of new programs and a new elementary school on the campus of Seton Keough High School on the city's west side.
Hardest hit by the plan is Baltimore, which is slated to lose 10 of its 30 Catholic schools. They include St. Bernardine Catholic School, Father Charles Hall Catholic Elementary and Middle School, St. Katharine School and Queen of Peace Cluster, Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, Sacred Heart of Mary School, Our Lady of Fatima School, St. Rose of Lima School, Shrine of the Sacred Heart School, St. William of York School and Cardinal Gibbons.
In the county, three of 27 schools will close. They include Ascension School in Halethorpe, St. Clare School in Essex and Holy Family School in Randallstown.
Hartnett said some displaced students would be traveling slightly shorter distances to their nearest new school than they are now, some slightly more. He said the average distance between any closed school and any of its receiving schools is less than three miles. Students make their own way to school; the archdiocese does not provide transportation.
Average tuition at archdiocesan elementary schools is $5,200 for parishioners and $6,300 for nonparishioners. At current rates, the archdiocese says, the average tuition for the receiving schools is $132 less than the schools that will be closing.
Hartnett said all 1,500 families affected by the changes would get a call in the next few days to see if they need help with the transition, then a follow-up call, then another call during the summer.
Hiring patterns of the past three years suggest that many of the 231 teachers and 94 staff and administrators who are displaced in the consolidation will be able to find jobs in the system. In August, for instance, the archdiocese hired 145 new teachers and 150 staff. The year before, it hired 118 new teachers and 189 staff.
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said the archdiocese would work with local public schools to try to find jobs for employees who cannot be placed within the archdiocesan system. In the meantime, health and dental benefits for the 325 displaced employees will be extended through August.