Corbett shows support for struggling Catholic schools

Gov­ernor Tom Corbett ad­dresses kids from dif­fer­ent Cath­ol­ic Schools dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at St. Mar­tin of Tours School on the new edu­ca­tion­al mod­el for cath­ol­ic schools around the city, Fri­day, Janu­ary 18, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Gov. Tom Corbett was at St. Mar­tin of Tours Ele­ment­ary School last week to pro­claim the value of a Cath­ol­ic edu­ca­tion.

Corbett told the pas­tors, prin­cipals and teach­ers that they in­her­ited a good edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem from gen­er­a­tions be­fore them.

Then, point­ing to the chil­dren stand­ing be­hind him, he made the case for ad­di­tion­al fin­an­cial sup­port for ail­ing Cath­ol­ic schools.

“We need to turn over an even bet­ter sys­tem to the gen­er­a­tion be­hind them,” he said dur­ing his vis­it Fri­day.

Corbett was at St. Mar­tin’s, at 5450 Roosevelt Blvd. in Ox­ford Circle, one of 16 so-called “mis­sion schools” in the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia. It’s the only one in the North­east.

Four­teen oth­er mis­sion schools are spread throughout the city and one is in Lans­downe, Delaware County. In all, they serve more than 4,200 stu­dents from pre-kinder­garten through eighth grade. Sixty-three per­cent of the stu­dents are non-Cath­ol­ic.

All of the schools are loc­ated with­in the bound­ar­ies of the 15 per­cent low­est-achiev­ing pub­lic schools.

The non-profit In­de­pend­ence Mis­sion Schools will of­fi­cially be­gin man­aging the schools in Septem­ber, and the arch­diocese’s Of­fice of Cath­ol­ic Edu­ca­tion will con­tin­ue to provide ser­vices. IMS was formed in early 2012 fol­low­ing the arch­diocese’s an­nounce­ment that some ele­ment­ary schools in poor neigh­bor­hoods would close due to low en­roll­ment and in­creas­ing costs.

The money raised by the IMS cent­ral of­fice and each school’s board will help lower the cost of tu­ition and en­hance the aca­dem­ic of­fer­ings. The hope is that en­roll­ment rises to the point that classrooms op­er­ate at or bet­ter than 90 per­cent of ca­pa­city.

At one time, Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary schools flour­ished. A num­ber of factors — high tu­ition, chan­ging neigh­bor­hoods, the pop­ular­ity of charter schools — have led to de­creased en­roll­ment, which has led to many closed and merged schools.

All of the schools, par­tic­u­larly St. Mar­tin’s and the oth­er 15 mis­sion schools, need help to sur­vive.

In his re­marks, Corbett pro­moted the state’s Edu­ca­tion­al Im­prove­ment Tax Cred­it and Op­por­tun­ity Schol­ar­ships Tax Cred­it pro­grams. Both pro­grams al­low busi­nesses to make tax-de­duct­ible dona­tions to schol­ar­ship or­gan­iz­a­tions.

IMS has a goal of rais­ing an en­dow­ment of $55 mil­lion over the next four years from busi­nesses and in­di­vidu­als. The group touted its plans to man­age the money wisely.

“We op­er­ate these schools for less than five-thou­sand dol­lars a child,” said Bri­an McEl­wee, chair­man of the IMS board of dir­ect­ors.

Among those in at­tend­ance at the event were Bish­op Mi­chael Fitzger­ald, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fat­tah, state Rep. Kev­in Boyle and City Coun­cil­wo­man Cindy Bass.

IMS used the oc­ca­sion to an­nounce the ap­point­ment of Aldo Cavalli as its first pres­id­ent. Cavalli, who has more than 35 years of ex­per­i­ence as an ad­min­is­trat­or and ex­ec­ut­ive for edu­ca­tion­al and men­tal health or­gan­iz­a­tions in the pub­lic and private sec­tors, de­scribed his new po­s­i­tion as the most ex­cit­ing of his pro­fes­sion­al life.

The mod­el school for the IMS is St. Mar­tin de Porres, at 23rd Street and Le­high Av­en­ue, which opened two years ago un­der private man­age­ment. Today, ac­cord­ing to McEl­wee, en­roll­ment is rising, stand­ard­ized test scores are im­prov­ing and the school’s fin­ances are sta­bil­iz­ing.

McEl­wee said Cath­ol­ic schools are in de­mand, as long as par­ents can af­ford them.

“These are an­chors in their neigh­bor­hoods,” he said.

Mary Mc­Don­ald will serve as a con­sult­ant to the IMS. She led a re­sur­gence in Cath­ol­ic edu­ca­tion in Mem­ph­is, even re­open­ing eight schools, in­clud­ing one that had been shuttered for 54 years. She hopes to help do the same in her nat­ive Phil­adelphia, which she poin­ted out was the home of St. John Neu­mann, who foun­ded the Cath­ol­ic school sys­tem, and St. Kath­ar­ine Drexel, who opened schools for the poor and dis­en­fran­chised.

James Maguire, founder and chair­man emer­it­us of Phil­adelphia Con­sol­id­ated Hold­ing Corp., said the in­sur­ance in­dustry will be pro­act­ive in sup­port­ing the IMS. He hopes oth­er busi­nesses and in­di­vidu­als join the ef­fort to boost the IMS.

“Any­body with­in shout­ing dis­tance of my voice ought to look at this pro­gram,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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