RACINE — Starting in the 2018-19 school year, Racine Catholic schools will be part of a the new Siena Catholic Schools system, which will involve the Archdiocese of Milwaukee hiring three new administrative positions. The five Racine area Catholic elementary schools along with St. Catherine’s Middle and High School are going to be part of the system.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki made the announcement to pastors, principals and trustees in a closed meeting at Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, 2201 Northwestern Ave., on Wednesday, following similar announcements recently made at other parishes.

The change comes after months, and in some respects years, of planning the realignment in effort to boost enrollment and overall quality of Catholic education.

Listecki said increasing costs and shifting demographics have weighed heavily on local parishes.

“We always have to make Catholic education accessible and affordable,” Listecki said. “What this does is it helps to promote those two qualities.”

The system is named after St. Catherine of Siena and the archdiocese anticipates enrolling 1,600 total students in the system. As part of the model, all of the system’s schools will be part of the Racine Parental Choice Program. The two new schools that will begin accepting vouchers will be St. Rita’s and St. Lucy’s, but that will not be until 2018-19 after they receive state approval.

Associate Superintendent Brenda White said this system is similar to the Kenosha’s All Saints Catholic School model. The Racine system will consist of 10 parishes — St. Patrick, St. Richard, St. Lucy, St. Joseph, St. Edward, St. John Nepomuk and Sacred Heart in Racine; St. Rita in Caledonia; St. Paul the Apostle in Mount Pleasant; and St. Sebastian in Sturtevant. The parishes will be partnering financially to support the school system.

Additionally, Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said the governance structure will be similar to the Seton Catholic School model in Milwaukee.

“It’s different from Milwaukee in that there is a high school (St. Catherine’s) and the transition from sponsorship of the Racine Dominicans to, now, the schools’ incorporation into this new entity, actually a new corporation, is unique,” Cepelka said.

Dominicans end sponsorship

The Racine Dominicans, who sponsored St. Catherine’s for over 150 years, plan to handover the sponsorship to the archdiocese and will also financially contribute to the system.

“The Racine Dominicans have not just been supportive of this, but they have requested this,” Cepelka said. “They reached a point in their community where they needed to turn this over.”

When it comes to how much each parish will have to pay, the archbishop said larger parishes will contribute more than smaller parishes.

“The formula will be equal,” Listecki said, adding if people are interested in how much their parish is contributing, “They can ask the parish. The committee has done the best they can do to make sure it’s a fair amount … No individual parish will take on a burden that it necessarily can’t handle.”

According to St. Paul the Apostle’s parish bulletin, the parish will be assessed $86,000 “for each of the next three years.” However, the parish found $56,000 in savings by sharing the salary and benefits of a new priest with St. Louis Catholic Church in Caledonia.

Listecki said currently parishes subsidize schools and in effect would allow schools to draw from a larger financial pool.

Two boards, one model

Dan Horton, leader of the finance task force and soon-to-be founding board member, said the next school year, 2017-18, will be a transition year.

“Much of the activity on an operational basis will remain at the parish level,” Horton said. “But as the new leadership of the system is hired ... They’ll work with parishes and school principals to put together more details than we’ve already started with.”

Along with a president, the archdiocese is looking to hire a director of business and director of schools. As part of the job, the individuals hired in those positions will work with the principals of schools and the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.

It’s unclear if positions will be eliminated but officials say that is “not built into the model.”

“We’re counting on the leaders of the new system, and the boards, to have the concept of good stewardship,” Horton said. “And that stewardship moving forward means people will have to perform, they’ll have to contribute to help build a vision. They’ll make decisions at that point that matches the resources with the costs.”

The Siena Catholic School system will have a two tier model to its governance. There will be a Board of Trustees, made up of parish pastors and representatives from the archbishop and the Racine Dominicans, and a Board of Directors made up of experts on finance, human resources, education, facilities and Catholic identity.

“That Board of Trustees would be under the authority of the archbishop,” White said. “And then we would have a lay Board of Directors underneath the Board of Trustees.”

White said the archdiocese plans on establishing the founding board members within the next month.

“We will file our articles of incorporation with the state,” White said. “Once those are filed and our bylaws are approved by the founding board then our 501c3, our nonprofit organization, will be operational.”

White said the boards will handle larger tasks such as signing leases and big purchases, and the principals will handle more day-to-day operations.

“The Board of Directors will set policy. They’ll establish the budget; they’ll take care of those big operational decisions,” White said. “There will still be a need at the local level by principals to make building decisions much like they do now.”

Good for the area

Fr. Ricardo Martin, pastor at Sacred Heart, said this new system will be good for the City of Racine.

“It’s a system that’s looking at growth, that’s looking at improving the quality of education,” Martin said. “These things cost money. There is a sacrifice needed … (but) it’s not like a consolidation in times of crisis.”

The archbishop said strong Catholic schools help improve the quality of the area and instill a level of faith in the community.

“Part of our mission is education and part of that is evangelization,” Listecki said. “And the best way to do that is through the schools. So it’s imperative that we keep the schools viable and we keep the schools alive.”

This story has been corrected since publication to reflect the correct name of the new school system.

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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