Combining five entities into one comes with its challenges, said Monsignor James Gilg, executive director of the new Omaha Catholic School Consortium.

But Gilg said the organization has taken a number of steps, with more in the works, toward blending the operations of five Catholic grade schools in the southeast and south-central portions of the metro area: Sts. Peter and Paul, Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Thomas More in Omaha and St. Bernadette in Bellevue.

The consortium, which took over the schools' business operations July 1, set common tuition rates for the five schools in January.

The organization since has set common benefits and a salary scale for teachers. Schools had offered a wide range of salaries, and only one had a salary scale. The consortium board, however, decided that no one would make less than last year. So some got a raise.

The board is made up of pastors, laypeople and the Omaha archdiocese's superintendent. It will take the place of school boards at each school, Gilg said. However, the consortium schools will continue to encourage parent involvement through advisory groups.

The consortium also comes with a more systematic approach toward supporting the schools financially.

The philosophy behind the consortium, Gilg said, calls for parishes throughout the area to share responsibility for operating the schools, rather than having individual parishes support the schools on their sites as they have done historically.

So the consortium developed a formula, which Archbishop George J. Lucas accepted, to assess parishes within the consortium area to help support the schools, supplementing what they collect through tuition, scholarships and fundraising.

Parishes with a school on site will be assessed at a rate of 60 percent of Sunday and Holy Day giving. Those without a school will contribute 31.7 percent of such giving. The total subsidy will add up to $2.75 million. Gilg said 18 area parishes are being tapped.

Archdiocese officials declined to provide assessments for individual parishes.

But a letter Lucas sent in May outlining the formula notes that the total amount is “considerably less” than parishes were spending to operate eight parish schools. Three closed last spring.

Gilg acknowledged that it will be a challenge for some parishes to meet the formula. Some had not previously contributed toward schools.

Others, however, already had been contributing at a rate higher than called for in the formula.

The consortium, he said, also expects to find ways to operate more efficiently and to increase enrollment and fundraising, which eventually will ease the burden.

The Rev. John Pietramale, a consortium board member, sees both sides of the issue. He's pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, which expects its school burden to lessen. But he also heads St. Adalbert Church, which has never had a school to support.

“Whether we have a school or not, we're sharing the mission of Catholic education,” he said.

At the same time, Gilg said, the consortium will be trying to determine the actual costs of operating schools and parishes, which tend to become intertwined through sharing and in-kind services.

The consortium has invested $350,000 in electrical upgrades and air conditioning at four schools. Sts. Peter and Paul got new carpet and paint, and renovations are underway in the front entry.

Gilg said the consortium was fortunate to “inherit” five good schools. To enhance them, the consortium will focus on:

» Enhancing Catholic identity. The consortium schools, plus two in Bellevue, will pilot a 30-hour adult faith formation program for teachers and administrators.

» Stepping up technology. Schools will use a software system called Power Walkthrough that allows officials to note and analyze classroom observations and adopt the Acuity testing program, which provides nearly instant feedback on student learning. The consortium also has created a technology committee that will look at future technologies, including mobile devices.

» Strategic planning. The process will include parents, principals, pastors and others.

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