Don Peoples Jr. says Butte Central Catholic Schools were founded in the 1880s to serve the children of Catholic miners.
And on Wednesday, Peoples announced a series of changes that aims to ensure the school remains faithful to those origins and accessible to local families with a range of incomes.
“We don’t want to be known as an expensive private school,” Peoples says. “We want all kids in our community to attend our schools.”
To help make that happen, Butte Central Catholic Schools Board approved a plan on April 25 that simplifies the schools’ tuition system, slashes tuition rates and offers more scholarships.
Under the new tuition structure, BCCS's existing six-tier system will change to include only two tiers beginning this fall, in time for the 2018 and 2019 school year.
Tier 1 will be for families whose income is greater than $80,000. Tier 2 will be for families who earn less than that. Families that fall in Tier 1 will pay $5,000 a year to enroll a child in Butte Central Elementary School and $6,000 for a year of high school. Families in Tier 2 will pay $3,000 for elementary education and $4,000 for high school.
Compared to the existing six-tier structure, all families will see savings. The size of those savings range from $170 a year for families of a high school student that make less than $30,000 a year to $2,765 a year for families that earn more than $150,000 annually.
Under the existing structure, the cost of tuition already fell below the cost of educating each student, which is estimated to be $6,375 per elementary school students and $9,000 per high school student, according to BCCS. With the cuts, the gap between tuition and cost will only grow.
To bridge that gap, BCCS is relying in the short term on the Butte Central Education Foundation, which will provide funding that came from a pair of anonymous donations and which is also planning a capital campaign to raise money for the schools.
Over the long term, officials from the foundation say the reduction in tuition will boost enrollment, “alleviate some of the burden” on the foundation and make the lower costs sustainable, says Todd Guldseth, who serves on the BCCS school board and is the chair of its finance committee.
Currently, 400 students are enrolled in BCCS, from preschool through high school.
While Guldseth, who has had three children attend Central schools, says the small size “affords a lot of opportunities for each students,” he also believes that improved accessibility and increased enrollment will make those opportunities available to students from a wider range of economic backgrounds.
Also key to BCCS’s mission is its religious element.
“We’re a Christian-based, Catholic-faith-driven school system,” Peoples says. “Prayer and Christian values and faith formation are a big part of our schools.”
And that element also helped drive the tuition changes.
According to Peoples, BCCS’s effort to lower costs is, in part, an answer to Pope Francis’ effort to encourage Catholic schools to serve more families. In a press release, Peoples characterized the new tuition structure as “our response to his (the Pope’s) challenge.”