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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

It Takes A Community

SARATOGA SPRINGS – As public schools across New York State begin their preliminary budgetary planning, private schools are quietly struggling to survive in a down economy.
While private schools do receive a small portion of state funding for mandated programs (typically under 5 percent of the total budget), a majority of the budget is made through tuition and fundraising. But in a down economy, these dollars are all but certain.

“A challenge for all of our parents here is paying tuition because the economy is going to affect everyone,” said Jane Kromm, principal of St. Clement’s Regional Catholic School. “Parents are paying school taxes already, but they’re choosing to send their children here, so that’s another tuition that they’re paying.”

Parents who send their children to private school are still required to pay public school taxes, even though their child will not directly benefit from said money. To address the issue, some have pushed for the state to consider school vouchers, which would allow parents to redirect those funds away from public schools and back into the private school their child attends. While a pilot program was created for vouchers in New York City, the program has yet to spread elsewhere in upstate New York.

“There’s always a worry when the economy is the way it is. We depend on our tuition and we hope that parents can pay our tuition, but families are going through difficult situations and some people are being laid off,” said Kromm.

While larger districts are struggling to close massive budget gaps – Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is staring down a roughly $2 million deficit – St. Clement’s budget of $1.75 million seems almost quaint. The difference, of course, is that St. Clement’s gathers its funding from a much smaller pool of resources and without the benefit of large sums of state aid. In fact, last year St. Clement’s received only 86.7 percent of the state aid they were entitled to, forcing the school to make up thousands of dollars in revenue through other means.
Still, said Kromm, St. Clement’s always seems to find a way through the difficult times, thanks in large part to a small but strong community passionate about its educational institution.

“Because we’re small, I think we’re very family oriented. We have parents who volunteer their time and help with things like our hot lunch program. We also try to maintain contact with our alumni who leave,” said Kromm, adding, “I think it’s rare to have an alumni association for an elementary school.”

Along with generous support from this small community during major fundraisers (the second largest source of revenue for private schools after tuition), generous alumni and parents of former and current students come together time and again to overcome any budget gap. Parents have donated iPads for students to use in the classrooms; alumni bring cultural arts programs and make extracurricular activities possible; and all parties volunteer their time during major fundraising events, such as the Race for Education fundraiser.

Because of their support, St. Clement’s has yet to cut programs such as art or foreign language – options some public schools must consider to close their own budget gaps. St. Clement’s is also fortunate to have a pool of money for financial aid, which helps pay for student tuition if parents are struggling to make ends meet. While the money isn’t inexhaustible, for now it’s there as a way to reinforce St. Clement’s communal strength.

“As a principal, there are nights I lose sleep over certain things. Sometimes I worry: will this fundraiser make as much as it can?” said Kromm. “But there’s always something. ‘Faith and Family’ is our motto here. I mean, we realize all the hard numbers – they’re reality – but somehow our community always makes it work.”

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