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Principal’s Letter for September 21, 2018

An optimist proclaims we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

As I noted in my remarks at the outset of both recent Curriculum Night events, while we recognize the challenges presented by recent trends in enrollment in Catholic schools including St. Joan of Arc, there is reason to remain optimistic about the future. SJA remains in the top quartile in the Diocese of Joliet in total enrollment. Our Preschool program remains quite popular in the community and provides an entry point to the early elementary grades that, ideally, will conclude with eighth grade graduation.

A demographic study of DuPage County commissioned by the Diocese of Joliet, while acknowledging the decline in school age children, reported that DuPage parents have a generally high level of education and are open to enrolling their children in private schools. We are making every effort to attract new parents and retain existing families through marketing and special events.

Our graduates continue to excel academically at local Catholic and public high schools as evidenced by the number of former SJA students who earn honor roll status. SJA is blessed with a stable, dedicated and hard-working staff for whom teaching is a true vocation. Curriculum is reviewed yearly and, if any weakness is perceived, teachers and administration research effective replacement curriculum. Such is the case with the recent adoption of Bridges Math (K-5) and Fundations literacy program.

The SJA Five Year Plan is a goal orientated document that focuses on a range of possibilities including adoption of 1:1 technology and expanding foreign language instruction. In addition to marketing and curriculum, the Five Year Plan presents actionable goals in the areas of Catholic Identity, Finance, and After School Programming.

SMART Tuition

Parents who have successfully logged into SMART Tuition may have noted a $50 administrative fee for using this service. This year, for the first time since SJA began using a tuition service to track tuition (FACTS Tuition was adopted by SJA in 2011) the fee for using the service was not rolled into the cost of tuition or paid for outright by the parish. For many reasons, employing a private enterprise rather than a parish or school administrator to collect and track tuition is highly recommended by the Diocese of Joliet and required of schools in the Chicago Archdiocese. This is a service for fee arrangement. SMART and FACTS fees are similar, but SMART offers services that we can use that FACTS does not, hence the change of services. This change came after the 2018-2019 tuition rates were set so the fee could not be rolled into tuition after the fact. This is why the $50 fee levied by SMART showed up in your first or second tuition invoice.

I am aware as a parent who is very familiar personally with school tuition payments as well as regularly scheduled payments for student extracurricular activities, that any additional fees beyond that which were initially anticipated are not welcomed unless there has been some prior notification. Indeed, SJA parents were not notified of the impending SMART charge and should have been. Going forward, I will make certain that no fees will be added after tuition rates have been published.

Below you will find a short response to questions you might have at this time.

 1. What is the $50 Admin Display Fee on my SMART Tuition invoice?

This is the annual cost of using the SMART Tuition platform.  Every electronic tuition management platform available to the school charges a fee, including our prior platform, FACTS.  In prior years, the fee was rolled into the overall tuition amount.

2. Why wasn’t I told about this fee ?

This was a failure of communication.  I apologize for the surprise fee and will continue to work towards greater transparency and better communication.  I understand you are already asked to contribute towards your child’s education in many, many ways, and every effort will be made in making sure you are aware of things like this.

3. Can I avoid the fee?

The fee is necessary for you to be able to use the SMART Tuition platform.  We are planning to roll out other uses of this platform for things such as Extended Day, Field Trips and other one-time payments. If you wish to avoid using the SMART platform, you can pay your tuition in full, by check, sent to Susan Fronek at the Parish Office.

4. Why are we being charged $100 for auction raffle tickets?

In my August 24 Principal Letter, I explained that requiring the proceeds from the auction raffle tickets generates much needed income to address pre-auction expenses.  We have surveyed schools throughout the area, and many of the schools require some type of financial contribution towards the school’s annual fund raising – whether it is tickets to the event, raffles, or other items.

After fairly extensive discussions in the Spring with the School Advisory Board, we decided that the fairest way to handle this charge would be to tie it to raffle tickets so that families have the opportunity to raise those funds by selling the raffle tickets individually.  If that amount was baked into the tuition, families would not have this fund raising option.  Also, we thought that raffle tickets would be easier for fund raising efforts than actual tickets to the event.

5. Is the school in financial distress?

No. Although the decline in enrollment has put pressure on the budgeting process, every year I have been able to develop a realistic budget that aims to limit tuition increases.  As noted at the Curriculum Nights, tuition is a substantial portion of the revenue side of the equation, but we are blessed to have a parish that provides a sizable parish subsidy and families who support Catholic education through our fund raising efforts.

The five-year strategic plan focuses on several pillars intended to strengthen our school community with respect to enrollment/marketing, finance and resource management, academics and after school programs, and Catholic identity.  I encourage you to actively participate in our implementation of these strategic initiatives.

Thank you for supporting Catholic education,

Michael Sweeney, Principal

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