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Parents and others associated with Mother Catherine Spalding School are faced with their largest fundraising goal to date — $300,000 by Jan. 15 — to make up for declining enrollment at the Catholic school in Helen.

Mother Catherine Spalding School this year has 122 students.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees Catholic churches and schools in St. Mary’s County, held a consultation meeting last week with the school community.

“What they were challenged with was to increase fundraising and increase enrollment,” Deacon Bert L’Homme, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said Thursday.

At last week’s meeting, school and archdiocese officials laid out an ambitious goal to close an ongoing deficit and keep the school’s budget in the black. “There was a lot of determination in that room,” L’Homme said, adding that he was encouraged that the school community could meet the fundraising goal.

It would not be unprecedented — St. Michael’s School in Ridge had been in consultation in the past and was in fear of not having enough money to stay open. That school rallied behind its principal, Lila Hofmeister, and others to more than meet its fundraising goals in recent years, primarily by creating an annual event called Cash Bash (set for this weekend at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds) which nets the school several hundred thousand dollars each year.

“We know that we have great schools” and that word needs to get out to the public, L’Homme said.

Supporters of Mother Catherine Spalding School will need to raise essentially one-fourth of its $1.2 million operating budget this year to remain open next school year.

Some people who attended the consultation meeting said the goal presented was $218,000 to close the deficit. L’Homme said the total goal is to raise $300,000 by Jan. 15, which includes the amount needed for the deficit as well as the year’s previously established fundraising amount.

The archdiocese declined to provide a handout to The Enterprise that was given out during the consultation meeting to explain the school’s finances and fundraising goal.

The school administrator, the Rev. Keith Woods, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Morganza, referred questions about the consultation meeting to the archdiocese office.

In addition to tuition, Catholic schools rely on money from parishioners of churches associated with the school. Mother Catherine Spalding draws from five churches: St. Joseph’s, Our Lady of the Wayside in Chaptico, Immaculate Conception in Mechanicsville, Holy Angels in Avenue and Sacred Heart in Bushwood.

“We’re moving forward,” Linda Miedzinski, who took over this year as principal at the school, said Thursday. The school has formed fundraising committees and is looking at tapping more into corporate sponsorships and boosting its annual giving campaign, she said.

“We’re just trying to keep a check on what’s going on at the school,” Sharyn Hutson, member of the school’s parent association, said.

She said the group has already met since last week’s consultation to come up with new and more robust fundraising efforts. “We’re very optimistic,” Hutson said.

Annual tuition at the five Catholic elementary/middle schools in St. Mary’s ranges from $4,975 to $5,200 for Catholic students and $6,000 to $6,200 for non-Catholics.

The archdiocese several years ago began offering money as scholarships to families instead of giving large sums directly to struggling schools. That upped the need to boost enrollment.

The archdiocese planned to give $5.5 million in tuition assistance to its schools this year, although the need is much higher, L’Homme said.

Five Catholic schools remain

Most Catholic schools in the region saw significant declines in enrollment during the last decade, although some enrollments have leveled off or even started to increase in the last couple of years.

Holy Angels-Sacred Heart School in Avenue shuttered its doors after 83 years at the end of the 2008-2009 school year due to low enrollment and financial troubles. About 50 of the students from there — more than half of its total final enrollment — transferred to Mother Catherine Spalding the following school year, boosting its enrollment to a little more than 200 students. However, by the 2010-2011 school year, enrollment at Mother Catherine Spalding had fallen to 157 students. The 122 students enrolled this year is nine fewer than last year.

The school met a goal of raising $130,000 two years ago and also met last year’s goal.

St. John’s School in Hollywood was in the midst of an enrollment decline when a February 2010 snowstorm crushed part of the school. After it was rebuilt, the school has touted its new classrooms and technology to attract students.

Little Flower, too, saw drastic decreases in enrollment, but recently has become more stable.

Father Andrew White School in Leonardtown has kept its enrollment steady and has never had to go into consultation with the archdiocese.

Overall, Catholic school enrollment in Southern Maryland is up about 100 this year to 2,200 students, according to the archdiocese.

Consultation meetings in 2010 posed the possibility of consolidation among the remaining schools. L’Homme said consolidating schools is not being considered now, and that the other four schools in St. Mary’s did not need consultation meetings this fall.

Miedzinski said she and the school community are looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Mother Catherine Spalding next school year. Quoting a slogan from the school, Miedzinski said, “Rejoice in the past and reach for the future.”