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Archbishop Walsh loses diocesan subsidy Principal: School will remain open now and in future

Fri, Jul 6th 2018 01:00 pm
  • By TOM DINKI, Olean Times Herald

OLEAN — Archbishop Walsh Academy has lost its $100,000 Catholic Diocese of Buffalo subsidy, but will remain open next school year and, according to school officials, years to come.

The diocese revealed this week it has cut off subsidies to Walsh and five other Western New York private Catholic high schools, including the Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School, whose board voted Tuesday to close in light of the cuts.

Noting “there’s a lot of talk going around,” Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic School President and Principal Thomas Manko said Thursday that neither school is closing and the Board of Trustees has instead approved a slightly trimmed-down budget for the 2018-19 school year.

“You get presented with lemons, you can either cry over it or make lemonade,” Manko said. “We’re making lemonade.”

While Walsh and the other affected schools had operate independently since approximately 1991, they still received subsidies from the diocese. 

The $100,000 subsidy represented 8 percent of the $1.19 million Walsh budget and 5 percent of the combined $2.05 million Walsh/Southern Tier Catholic budget, according to figures provided by Manko. The $1,800-per-student diocesan subsidy for Southern Tier Catholic, which handles pre-kindergarten through 8th grade, is not affected.

In all, Walsh will lose $107,000 in diocesan funding, as Manko said the diocese will also no longer pay about $35,000 in liability insurance premiums but will assume about $28,000 in pension plan payments.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but it’s only $107,000,” Manko said. “It’s not the entire budget, it’s not the end of the world.”

Yet Manko admitted the cut, which school officials were informed of in a letter in late April, caught them “off guard.” The Walsh subsidy had already been reduced down from about $125,000 three years ago, so they thought it may decrease significantly in the next few years — but they never anticipated all of it would be cut at once.

The diocese announced in March that it would create a fund to settle claims of child sexual abuse against its clergy, at the time saying it would consider selling property to fund the program. At least two of the accused priests in the recent scandal taught at Walsh in the 1980s.

The spokesman for the diocese, George Richert, said in an email that while diocese has supported former diocesan schools like Walsh for many years, it "unfortunately is no longer possible to provide that support." 

Since learning of the cut, the Walsh finance committee reduced $70-80,000 from the budget by cutting back on supplies, materials, technology and equipment purchases, as well some contractual items.

However, Manko said all extracurricular activities, sports teams and the school’s International Baccalaureate program will continue. He added no faculty or staff will be laid off or have their hours reduced, although none of them will receive a pay raise.

“They get it, they love working in the school and said, ‘Whatever we need to do, let us know,’” said Manko, noting unlike public schools with teacher union contracts, private school raises are often decided on a year-to-year basis based on finances.

For the remaining $20-30,000, Walsh is looking to make up the difference by fundraising. Manko said there’s already been some success in that effort, with some alumni and donors committing for multi-year donations of $2-4,000 every year for the next few years.

“Our alumni and our donors are behind us 100 percent,” he said.

He added that in the future, Walsh may have to look to more grants from private foundations, as well as state and federal government monies available to private schools. The school typically generates upwards of $250,000 from two annual major fundraisers, the Eagles Gala Auction in the fall and the St. Patrick’s Day Party and Raffle in March.

“We are used to raising money, we’re used to connecting with alumni and major donors, we’re used to looking at every state and federal dollar,” Manko said. “It’s in our DNA. That’s what we do.”

The Walsh tuition rate of approximately $6,500 and the Southern Tier Catholic tuition rate of approximately $4,600 are set to increase about 2 percent next school year, but Manko said that decision was made in February before the school learned of the subsidy cut and that tuition regularly goes up every two years.

There are approximately 190 students enrolled across Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic for next school year.

Since the closing of Niagara Catholic and the revelation of the subsidy cut, Walsh has received numerous phone calls from concerned parents, alumni and community members fearing Walsh would also close.

Manko said school administrators and trustees “never even contemplated that” as an option and, if they had, would have informed the community of the possibility.

He feels Walsh has demonstrated it sets up its students, both Catholic and non-Catholic, for success in the future. The school’s 11 graduating seniors this past school year have received more than $2.4 million in scholarships.

“We’re just going to be very guarded in terms of expenditures,” Manko said. “We’re used to pressure and we have to be able to respond appropriately on a moment’s notice.”

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)

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