By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia unveiled plans on Tuesday for the nation's first independently managed Catholic school system, aimed at increasing enrollment.
The newly created Faith in the Future Foundation will manage 17 high schools and four special education schools, where a total of 16,000 students are currently enrolled, said Archbishop Charles Chaput. Church parishes will continue to operate 123 elementary schools in the Catholic system.
Headed by H. Edward Hanway, a former CEO of the CIGNA insurance giant and a Philadelphia businessman who attended Catholic schools, the independent foundation intends to not just stabilize the hemorrhaging school system but to boost enrollment, Chaput said.
The management change comes after a tumultuous year for the archdiocese, marked by a high profile child sex abuse scandal that cost an estimated $11 million, as well as a scramble to sell properties to head off a $6 million budget deficit.
Philadelphia's Catholic schools have seen a 72 percent drop in enrollment since 1961, church leaders said previously. According to a 2011 study by Boston College, the Philadelphia experience outpaces what the study called a "daunting" decline of 63 percent nationally since 1963.
The precipitous drop in Philadelphia has been blamed on smaller family size, increasing tuition costs and alternative forms of education such as charter schools.
"This is a historic day for the archdiocese of Philadelphia... but more for Catholic education in the United States," Chaput said at a news conference at St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, recently on a list of schools threatened with closure due to budget deficits blamed in part on declining enrollment.
The foundation, formed by concerned Catholics who urged Hanway to become chairman, will assume strategic and operational control of the schools, will pay any school deficits and will focus on fundraising, marketing and cultivating best practices in leadership and education.
The archdiocese will retain control over curriculum and teacher development as well as ownership of the properties.
Tuition at archdiocese secondary schools is now about $6,000 per year and is likely to stay at that level, Chaput said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman)