St. John the Baptist school to close K-5 program

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St. John the Baptist Regional Catholic School in Scottdale is closing its K-5 program, citing dwindling enrollment and financial problems.

A statement by the Diocese of Greensburg said Bishop Lawrence Brandt approved the closure at the request of the two priests who make up its Board of Trust administrators.

“While this change signals a significant, but regrettable, moment in the history of Catholic education in this region of the diocese, we are all confident that it is the best course of action,” Msgr. Larry J. Kulick told a meeting Thursday of school families, where the closing was announced.

The school’s preschool program, however, will remain open.

In addition to St. John the Baptist Church, the Westmoreland County school had long drawn from three other area parishes whose schools had closed years before. The others are St. Pius X and Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parishes in Mount Pleasant and St. Joseph Parish in Everson.

The school had 124 students in grades K-8 in 2007-08, but that enrollment steadily declined, and in 2013 the school dropped its upper grades and cut positions in an attempt to salvage programs in the lower grades, with 39 in grades K-4 at the end of the most recent school year. But with only 30 students registered for 2014-15 even with an attempted restoration of Grade 5, the board recommended it close entirely.

The school was founded in 1889 and was staffed for nearly a century by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill before it switched to a lay teacher staff.

The diocese is now helping refer school parents to other Catholic schools in the area.

Diocesan spokesman Jerry Zufelt said parents were disappointed with the news at the Thursday meeting.

“There were a couple of people that expressed frustration, but most people understood,” he said.

He attributed the enrollment drop to a combination of factors.

“There are fewer and fewer children in the area,” he said, adding that the school also lost some prospective seventh- and eighth-graders when Greensburg Central Catholic High School expanded into those grades a few years ago.

St. John the Baptist is the fifth Catholic primary school to close in the last decade in the Diocese of Greensburg, which covers Westmoreland, Fayette, Indiana and Armstrong counties.

Others are Holy Rosary in Republic, Sacred Heart in Youngstown, St. Mary Nativity in Uniontown and All Saints Regional Catholic School in Masontown.

Although some Catholic schools are growing, nationwide enrollment in Catholic elementary and secondary schools is down 20 percent from a decade ago.

Declines are especially heavy in older Northern and Eastern dioceses, according to statistics from the National Catholic Educational Association.

In the Greensburg Diocese, enrollment in grades pre-K through 12 is down about 40 percent, to 2,923, from where it was 10 years ago.

Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette or 412-263-1416.

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416. First Published August 8, 2014 10:56 AM

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