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Two new schools draw criticism

An ambitious proposal put forward by Bishop Samuel Aquila to build two elementary schools as part of a Fargo Catholic Diocese reorganization is drawing sharp questions from parishioners.

Graphic: Fargo Catholic Schools

An ambitious proposal put forward by Bishop Samuel Aquila to build two elementary schools as part of a Fargo Catholic Diocese reorganization is drawing sharp questions from parishioners.

The plan doubles the number of elementary schools in the Fargo Catholic Schools Network, with a goal of creating a balanced Fargo-West Fargo K-12 school system handling 1,600 students by 2020.

Meetings are planned Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the second phase of the diocese's information drive on the reorganization, which also includes closing one church and moving another.

Diocese officials say demographic trends point to huge growth west and southwest of the metro.

"It's so clear the need for schools. For the Catholic Church not to respond when we know there's Catholic population there would not be correct for the Catholic Church," diocese spokeswoman Tanya Watterud said.


No cost figures are available for the schools, and no plans have been drawn up, Watterud said. It also hasn't been determined whether the parishes will pay for the schools or if any diocese cost-sharing is being considered, she said.

Early meetings on the plan have featured some emotional exchanges.

Some parishioners say the diocese is stonewalling requests for financial and enrollment information.

Brad Schmidt is on the finance committee for Blessed Sacrament Church in West Fargo. Under the diocese's plan, Blessed Sacrament would be closed and combined with Holy Cross Church. A new church, school and parsonage would be built at the Holy Cross site.

Schmidt said the answers he and others seek are simple due diligence, important because the West Fargo churches will be asked to pay up to 45 percent of their offerings to subsidize the Fargo Catholic Schools Network.

"We know nothing about it (the schools network). We don't know how it's governed. We don't know what kind of financial situation it is in ... and they've not told us anything," Schmidt said.

A network financial report, available on the diocese's website, shows that its budget had deficits the past two years, spending about $350,000 more than it received in revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, and spending about $380,000 more than it received in revenues in the year ending June 30, 2010.

Those deficits were covered by funds saved from years of surpluses, said Scott Hoselton, the diocese's finance officer. He said revenues are increasing following the recession.


The Catholic Schools Network also saw a 15 percent drop in enrollment in the past few years. In the 2005-06 school year, there were 1,242 Catholic school students. This year, there are 1,054, according to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

It costs about $6,938 to educate a student in the network, Hoselton said. Of that, $1,447 is covered by the parish subsidy, and $5,491 is covered by tuition, fees and fundraising.

Schmidt said there are worries about whether parishes can afford the schools and church construction.

"Those schools, they should be able to sell that program on its own merits so they don't have to force people to contribute to it," Schmidt said. "And that's exactly what the bishop is doing. He's saying, as Catholics, you're obligated to pay for this program. And I think that's where we take issue with him."

The Catholic Schools Network has two elementary schools, Nativity Elementary at 1825 11th St. S. and Holy Spirit Elementary at 1441 8th St. N.

Holy Cross Elementary, with one class per grade, would be built at Holy Cross Catholic Church at 1420 16th St. E. in West Fargo.

The plan calls for a pre-kindergarten class at Holy Cross for the 2011-12 school year and then adding kindergarten through fifth grade at a rate of one grade per year.

St. Benedict Elementary would be located at the new site of St. Benedict Church north of Horace, N.D. That school may eventually have two classes per grade.


The plan calls for a pre-kindergarten to grade one school to open for the 2014-15 school year at St. Benedict. Grades two through five would be added between 2016 and 2019.

Watterud said the diocese has welcomed the give-andtake.

"We've seen a lively conversation at the public meetings, very good comments coming back," she said.

"And we're hoping for lots more," she said. "(Bishop Aquila) has sought this consultation. He is grateful for that," she said.

Three meetings this week to discuss proposed reorganization

Three Fargo Catholic Diocese meetings are planned this week to discuss a proposed reorganization. The meetings are being held to more deeply assess the plans, looking for benefits, concerns, questions and ideas for refinement.

  • Northwest parishes will meet from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Holy Cross Crossway Center, 1420 16th St. E., West Fargo.
  • Northeast parishes will meet from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Anthony of Padua's social hall, 710 10th St. S., Fargo.
  • South parishes will meet from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Sts. Anne and Joachim social hall, 5202 25th St. S., Fargo.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Graphic: Fargo Catholic Schools

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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