More School? Now, it's \"optional\"

Color me stunned. It's not up there with Tunisia and Egypt, but there has been a small victory for democracy in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Officials have suddenly scaled back on plans to institute an archdiocese-wide plan to expand the school year by twenty days -- with a coincident hike in tuition. The plan was announced last week by the superintendent of elementary schools, after zero consultation with pastors, principals, parents and teachers.

But now the archdiocese's schools chancellor, Mary Elizabeth Galt, said the additional days of instructions were only "a recommendation." Final decisions will be left to individual schools and parishes, she added.

What happened? Officials apparently had hoped that the extra school days would make Catholic schools more appealing -- setting them apart from public schools, where (due to budget cuts) the school year has actually been sliced by five days. More cuts may be coming.

But appealing was not the word that came to most minds: the top-down nature of the original announcement -- stunning educators and religious along with parents -- made the plan an instant poster-boy for unwelcome executive attitudes that many people considering a switch to Catholic education would reject. And the proposal to boost tuition ten percent or more certainly made poorer parents think twice.

In fact, Chancellor's Galt back-pedalling came at an event meant to kick-off a new marketing campaign for Catholic schools. Archdiocesan officials say there are 30,000 open seats in the L.A. system, and nine schools are in jeopardy of closing. the marketing campaign aims at hiking enrollment -- and outside financial support for the poorest campuses.

The archdiocese may've realized that this was not going to work: pleading with Catholics to open their wallets and express value for parochial schools, while at the very same time ignoring them completely when it came to their children's education.

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