“It’s a difficult decision and it saddens me deeply,” Abts added. “I did not come here to close schools.” Abts has been with the ACES Xavier system since 1989. He was named system president in 2006.
ACES Xavier, which is supported by the eight Appleton parishes and includes four pre-K-5 schools, St. Joseph Middle School and Xavier High School, is currently in the black, Abts stressed. However, he added, without the consolidation, the system would face a budget by next year. By closing one school now, the system expects to save an estimated $450,000.
“The small numbers at some of our schools are not sustainable,” Abts said. “Three of the four elementary schools and the middle school are only half full.”
The decision as to which school will be closed has not yet been made. That decision belongs to the system’s corporate board, which includes Bishop David Ricken; Deacon Tim Reilly, diocesan director for administration; Dr. Joseph Bound, diocesan director of education; and the Appleton pastors. They will make their decision sometime in November.
The schools affected are:
• Catholic Central in the downtown;
• St. Thomas More on the north side;
• St. Pius X, also on the north side;
• St. Bernadette on the east side of Appleton.
The ACES Xavier system has a total of 1,716 students, with 848 enrolled in the elementary schools. The number of students enrolled in the elementary schools has dropped by 7 percent in the past five years.
Each of the elementary schools is owned by the parish where it is located. ACES Xavier itself only owns two buildings: the middle and high schools.
“We’re in the black now,” Abts stressed. “This will allow us to remain in the black.”
In a separate interview with The Compass, Abts said the focus for the future needs to be on using resources to grow enrollment.
“Right now, we have under-utilized buildings,” he said. “That ties up resources in fixed costs. We want to devote our resources to growing quality programs.”
Parents at the listening sessions were interested in offering suggestions on how to increase enrollment, decrease tuition costs – which are currently $2,618 a year at the elementary level – and maintain small class sizes and the programs currently offered to students. At present, tuition accounts for one-half the system’s budget.
Abts said that ACES/Xavier offers some programs that are not often found in other schools, including public schools. These include 4-5 grade orchestra and band programs, counselors at every campus, physical education programs at all the schools, a theater program at the middle school, as well as high school, a world language program including German, Spanish, French and Chinese at the middle school, and a fine arts program at all the schools.
“I’ve been very impressed at our parents’ level of commitment to Catholic education,” Abts told The Compass. “We’ve had a lot of very good suggestions in terms of how to help us make this transition and keep 100 percent of our parents with us. At both addresses this week, there were a lot of good suggestions made. At the listening sessions, we want to build on that.”
Listening sessions will be held this month at St. Joseph Middle School, 2626 N. Oneida St. Three were held on Oct. 6, 7 and 8. The remaining sessions are:
• Friday, Oct 16, 2:30-4 p.m.;
• Monday, Oct. 19, 7-8:30 a.m.;
• Tuesday, Oct. 20, 6:30- 8 p.m.;
• Wednesday, Oct. 21, 5-6:30 p.m.
ACES Xavier is the longest-running of the diocese’s regional school systems. It was started in 1986 when St. Joseph Middle School opened on the site of the former St. Joseph Parish’s school. The middle school was relocated to its current site in 2000. Xavier, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, joined the system in 2001.