Tube City Almanac

March 27, 2012

Two Catholic Schools Merging; Port Vue Site Will Close

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St. Joseph Regional School in Port Vue will close at the end of this school year and its students will be transferred to St. Angela Merici School in White Oak.

The announcement was made Sunday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and reported Monday by the Daily News. Technically a merger between St. Joseph and St. Angela, the school in White Oak will receive a new name, yet to be determined.

Three Catholic schools in the Woodland Hills area also are being consolidated into one school.

The decision to merge the two elementary schools is a reflection of "changing demographics and sustained economic challenges" in the Mon-Yough area, said the Rev. Kris Stubna, diocesan secretary for Catholic Education, and is the result of an 18-month process that included the pastors of all of the McKeesport-area churches whose students attended the two schools.

"It was important to develop a plan that will sustain the viability and affordability of Catholic school education well into the future," Stubna said, and "doing nothing is not an option."

"Each of the schools is facing critical challenges that will only worsen if they chose 'to go it alone,' even to the point of losing all five schools," he said.

. . .

The aging and declining population of the Mon Valley is clearly a factor. Since 1990, McKeesport has lost nearly 7,000 residents and is down to 19,731 people as of the 2010 U.S. Census. Port Vue lost 400 residents between 2000 and 2010, while Glassport declined by about 500; Swissvale and Turtle Creek each lost about 700 residents during that time period.

While the median age nationally is under 37, the median age in McKeesport and Turtle Creek is 40; North Versailles, 42; White Oak and Versailles, 45.

Bringing together a consortium of churches to operate a school, instead of placing the burden on individual parishes, creates a more efficient, more cost-effective educational program that can also offer better opportunities to students, Stubna said.

. . .

St. Joseph Regional is already the product of a 1984 merger of several McKeesport-area Catholic schools and draws students primarily from McKeesport Area and South Allegheny communities. The school, built in 1954, is located on Romine Avenue at the site of the former St. Joseph Church and School in Port Vue. In 1993, St. Joseph Church merged with St. Eugene Church in Liberty Borough to form St. Mark, though the new parish uses both "worship sites" for weekend Masses.

According to the school's website, it serves 170 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade, plus 26 preschoolers.

Founded in 1961, St. Angela Merici School is co-located with St. Angela Merici Church on Fawcett Avenue. According to figures from the state Department of Education, St. Angela serves 188 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, plus pre-kindergarten students.

The eight parishes forming the consortium to run the new Mon-Yough school include Corpus Christi and St. Patrick, city; St. Robert Bellarmine, East McKeesport; St. Michael, Elizabeth Township; Queen of the Rosary, Glassport; St. Mark, Port Vue and Liberty; St. Angela Merici, White Oak; and St. Jude the Apostle, Wilmerding.

. . .

Tuition at the new White Oak-based Catholic school will be "reduced substantially" compared to the two existing schools, Stubna said.

Current tuition at St. Angela is $3,000 per year for the first child; that will drop to $2,700 at the new school. Tuition figures at St. Joseph's were not immediately available.

The new White Oak school is expected to enroll as many as 300 pupils in the fall, Stubna said. "With additional students and staff members, the educational program at the two schools will build on their current excellence and be able to provide additional programs and an even stronger curriculum in both school programs," said Robert Paserba, Pittsburgh diocese school superintendent.

"The more efficient cost per student will allow for the schools to do more and will help the parishes to be able to provide a reasonable financial subsidy that helps the overall financial stability of the supporting parishes," he said.

. . .

The Woodland Hills schools affected are Good Shepherd, Braddock; St. Maurice, Forest Hills; and Word of God, Swissvale. Both Good Shepherd and Word of God will close at the end of this school year and students will be relocated to St. Maurice School, which will be renamed "East Catholic."

The study that resulted in the decision to merge and close some Mon Valley schools was conducted in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. The goal was to "facilitate a more regional approach to governing and supporting Catholic elementary schools," according to a spokesman for the Catholic diocese.

Stubna and Paserba thanked the pastors at all 14 of the affected churches for their input and guidance.

"Change is never easy but it can help to bring about an educational program that is stronger, more affordable and much more viable for the future," Stubna said. ""We have an opportunity now to bring all the parishes and families in a new and exciting way to operate and to support quality, faith-centered Catholic schools for the long run."

. . .

Editor's Note: Written in part from a press release issued by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

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