APPLETON - It was a somber moment for Reverend Donald Zuleger and Saint Bernadette parishioners Sunday.
The parish's Early Childhood through fifth grade school, along with Catholic Central Elementary, received official word they will close and consolidate with two other schools starting the 2014-2015 school year.
"We've experienced a drop in enrollment in the last few years, and project a continued drop in enrollment," said Rev. Donald Zuleger.
School officials say the data-driven changes come after years of work to create a more sustainable and vibrant Catholic school education in Appleton.
The Catholic school system's four elementary schools will consolidate into one, called St. Francis Xavier Elementary School.
Split into two campuses, St. Francis Xavier Elementary will be located at St. Pius X and St. Thomas More Elementary Schools.
School officials tell FOX 11 the consolidation could save the school system about $400,000 in its first year.
"It's not primarily driven by finances, but financial sustainability of the system is obviously key," said Ray DuBois, president of the Saint Francis Xavier Catholic School System. "Every one of the eight parishes in Appleton are co-owners, co supporters of that single school. Whether it's physically located on 'Parish A' or 'Parish B,' in the grand scheme of things, that's irrelevant now."
The future elementary campuses are located on the city's north side.
One of the schools to be closed – St. Bernadette – is the only elementary school on the city's south side.
A fact that still concerns Zuleger.
"There's a big concern about that," said Zuleger among parishioners. "It was brought up, quite explicitly, to the (school system) board and in the decision making process."
DuBois concedes that parents and students may face increased travel distances.
But the school system president says the increases are relative, no matter which parish schools were chosen to remain open.
However, he admits there could be an immediate impact.
"I think in the short-term, there may be some enrollment dip," said DuBois. "I think in the medium-term and longer-term, our schools will become more - will be strengthened, educationally as well as become more financially sustainable."
Parents of students at St. Bernadette declined comment following Sunday's church service.
DuBois says it's too early to say if teachers and other staff will lose their jobs in the consolidation.
That, and how the vacant school building will be used, will be studied in the near future.
The system will hold a public meeting on Tuesday to address questions the community may have. It will start at 6 p.m. at the Grand Meridian.
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