St. Philip School, Green Bay, ending its 67-year run
School to close June 8
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
June 8 will mark the final day of classes in the 67-year history of St. Philip the Apostle School, Green Bay.
"We've been dealing with this challenge for a number of years," said Fr. Larry Canavera, pastor at St. Philip the Apostle Parish. "We've come to a point where we cannot continue with the school operating alone."
The Parish Pastoral Council listed five reasons - insufficient enrollment, inadequate class sizes, school deficit, parish debt and demographics - in its recommendation for the school's closing. Next year's enrollment was estimated at 68 to 72 students. The school needs 120 to 125 students to operate efficiently.
"Three years ago, we realized that we could not continue to create a deficit," said Fr. Canavera. "If you don't meet your enrollment goal, you struggle from the loss of tuition."
The projected deficit for the 2006-2007 school year is $62,000. The school already has a $210,000 deficit from prior years.
Fr. Canavera praised the parish community and the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc for their longtime support of the school.
"Closing the school departs from the history of the parish," he said. "We've always had a school and the parish has sacrificed for the school. Two additions were put on this main
building. The church was never built as a worship space. It was supposed to be the school gymnasium."
"One of our retired graduates spoke to me after Mass recently," he added. "He had a book from the 25th anniversary of the school. In the first year, with multiple grades, there were
more than 260 students. Historically, at times, St. Philip had 900 students. Unfortunately we've seen a decline in enrollment dating back to 1981."
St. Philip was one of three schools recommended for closing in the Green Bay Regional Association of Catholic Education (GRACE) proposal released in November of 2005. Bp. David Zubik did not implement the proposal, instead leaving decisions on school closings to the involved parishes. St. Philip was in favor of a unified system, added Fr. Canavera.
"It began in 2000 with the unification study on the east side of Green Bay," he said. "We knew that we needed a system in place. We were in favor of GRACE when it was going to create
a system for the use of assets throughout the area, including facilities and personnel. We later opposed it when it did not deliver on those main values."
"We have to work together," he added. "We have to create something good. We feel that the other area parishes are not going to be able to operate schools for an extended time if we don't work together. Catholic education needs to be a cooperative effort."
A pledge drive with a goal of collecting $100,000 was implemented in an attempt to keep St. Philip School open. Mike Wisneski, parish business manager, reported that $22,020 was
collected. Additional donations were expected, but the total would still fall far below the target. Donors may choose to have the money returned or apply it to the parish debt, said Wisneski.
Principal Heidi Potts is assisting students to continue their Catholic education at other schools. St. Philip will continue its tuition assistance program for those students. The
diocesan Department of Education is assisting with the placement of St. Philip teachers at other Catholic schools.
"The faculty with Heidi's leadership, while not knowing what was going to happen, has made this a good year," said Fr. Canavera. "We've had good cooperation by the faculty, the parish community, parents and students, which has been consoling."
"I have a son graduating from Notre Dame (Academy) this year who went to school here," said Kim McKeefry, a St. Philip School parent. "We've been involved with the school for a long time and it's been a big part of our lives. It's going to be hard for the kids."