Contractor offers Baltimore Archdiocese $700,000 to keep several schools open

March 27, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore contractor has offered the archdiocese $700,000 to keep open several of the schools that are set to close in June.

Danny Schuster has also launched a radio advertising campaign asking parishioners to withhold contributions at Mass until Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien reconsiders the decision to close a dozen elementary schools and the Cardinal Gibbons School.

"The archbishop is a good man who is under tremendous financial pressure," Schuster said. "He has chosen the wrong place to cut, and I am going to stay vocal about the school closings until at least a portion of them survive."

Schuster, a Reisterstown resident and father of seven educated in the parochial school system, said he is particularly concerned that nine of the grade schools to be shuttered and Gibbons are all in the city.

"We as Catholics are supposed to be taking care of these kids," Schuster said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has acknowledged receiving a letter from Schuster detailing the offer. Schuster is asking that at least five schools remain open for three more years, during which time he said he is certain he could "find funding vehicles to keep them operating."

"Asking the inner city to shoulder this burden is not proportionate to the rest of the diocese," he said. "I think $700,000 is a healthy start toward defraying losses and should buy us time so that business people can band together and come up with a solution. I know we can get children in those seats."

Schuster's offer would not solve the system's financial problems. To take one example, Father Charles Hall Elementary School on Fremont Avenue, one of the schools he wants to save, is closing with more than $900,000 in maintenance needs and a $210,000 loss in 2009.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said the decision to close 13 of 64 schools was "not just about money."

"We have 10,000 empty seats in our classrooms," spokesman Sean Caine said. "We have to invest in viable schools. Under Mr. Schuster's logic, no school would ever close, and that's not a sound way to operate."

Church officials have offered to meet with Schuster in the hope of tapping into his passion for Catholic education.

Caine said the system's reorganization would strengthen the surviving schools for a more viable future.

"This campaign to impact the finances of the diocese will only harm the schools," he said. "Asking people not to give diminishes the dollars we give to parishes. ... If one person hears that message and responds, it will have an effect."

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