Catholic school considering options as enrollment sees sharp decline

Published: Nov. 7, 2019 at 5:27 PM CST
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The future of a catholic school is in question. The Sacred Heart School in Oelwein has seen its enrollment drop by half over the last decade.

Chilly air didn’t stop students from spending recess on the playground on Thursday. Leaders at Sacred Heart don't want anything to prevent them from being at the school.

“It's a wonderful place for our students to be, it's a wonderful place for staff,” said Principal Julie Woods. “It's been a part of the community since 1904.”

The declining enrollment is prompting tough questions.

“We want to make the right decision, not a hasty decision,” Woods said.

Enrollment in the 09-10 school year was 151 students for the Pre-K to sixth-grade school, according to the school. This school year, that number is 75, a 50 percent drop.

A letter sent to families explains last school year's expenses outweighed its income by $95,000.

The letter also outlines five options for the school. The first is starting a capital campaign for the next three school years to increase enrollment and revenue.

Other options include cutting down the grades, Preschool to fourth grade, pre-K to second grade, or preschool only. And the last option is closing down. People in the community say they don't want to see the school close.

“Oelwein was at one time a much larger community,” said Woods.

Now, with a population of around 6,400 at the last census, town leaders say they don't want to see anything closing down.

“Our community would see a great loss with that school leaving,” said Deb Howard, executive director of Oelwein Chamber and Area Development. “Even though the enrollment is small right now, it's still a great opportunity for families.”

Howard says it was a busy school when her children were enrolled there.

“Sacred Heart has a long history here in Oelwein,” Howard said.

And wants that history to be part of the town's future too.

“We want input from our community and our parish because this shouldn't be a decision that anyone person makes without input from the people that are a part of it,” Woods said.

A community discussion to help figure out the school's future is planned for Sunday at 11:30 at the Sacred Heart Church.

A few weeks ago in Dubuque, Holy Family Schools made the decision to close two elementary schools. They cited declining enrollment as the cause.

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