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3 Catholic Schools Ask Not to Be Changed to Charters

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said yesterday he is considering plans from three D.C. Catholic schools that want to continue operating as parochial schools instead of being converted to charter schools.

Wuerl said he will delay his final recommendation on the Catholic school conversions, which he had intended to make this week, until he has thoroughly reviewed the proposals. St. Francis de Sales in Northeast Washington and St. Gabriel in Northwest Washington were granted extensions on the Oct. 20 deadline and will meet with archdiocese officials this week to flesh out their plans, archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said.

St. Augustine in Northwest filed its proposal Monday, and Wuerl described it as "very thorough." Five other schools have not submitted plans and will probably face conversion.

Last month, Wuerl proposed that eight of 12 Catholic schools operating as the Center City Consortium convert to charter schools -- a move that would allow them to operate with public funds. The consortium, set up in 1995 as a way for struggling inner-city Catholic schools to share administrative costs and pool fundraising resources, brought academic improvements, but the archdiocese said the schools have been losing money.

In an interview, Wuerl repeated his desire for Catholic schools to remain open as religious schools if they can be financially viable.

"Whatever proposals they bring in will be studied and examined to see just how realistic it is," Wuerl said yesterday. "We will seriously consider them."

His proposal has touched a nerve among many Catholics, including some African Americans who say the conversions would limit academic options for minority children. About 95 percent of children attending the consortium schools are African American.

Members of a group calling itself the Committee to Save Black Catholic Schools have held "silent prayer rallies" outside the Cathedral of Saint Matthew, the home church of the Archdiocese. At St. Augustine on Sunday, where Wuerl was celebrating Mass, he took questions afterward about the conversions.

The group also sent a letter to Wuerl this month asking him to give schools more time to come up with financial alternatives to conversion. It also urged the archdiocese to work with the schools to develop options.

"We need money. We need his cooperation. We need time," said S. Kathryn Allen, a Catholic school parent and founding member of the committee. Allen said that a graduate of St. Augustine, which calls itself "the mother church for African American Catholics in the Nation's Capital," has pledged $50,000 a year for the next five years.

"We need the archdiocese to cooperate and support us in this effort, not just stand back and see if it's going to make it," Allen said.

Joe McKenzie, who has two children at St. Gabriel, said he and other Catholics concerned about the proposed conversion need more time to develop a response.

"Putting this kind of thing on us, although we want to do it to save our school, it should take a whole lot more time than a week or two days or a month," McKenzie said.

The five other schools slated for conversion are Assumption School and Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Southeast, Holy Name in Northeast and Immaculate Conception and Nativity Catholic Academy in Northwest.

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