Tax credit program ups number of students at Lourdes
By Mark Gilger
COAL TOWNSHIP - Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School has experienced a substantial enrollment increase at the high school, has enhanced security measures for the new school year and will have several new teachers.
Deacon Martin McCarthy, school administrator and high school principal, said total enrollment is 450, 42 more students than last year. He said the most significant increase occurred at the high school (grades 7 to 12), where 160 students are enrolled compared to 126 in 2012-2013. The elementary school, which includes students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, has an enrollment of 290, eight higher than last year.
Thanks to EITC
McCarthy said the primary reason for the enrollment increase is the state Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which enables students to receive tuition assistance through the Neumann Scholarship Foundation. Since the end of the 2012-2013 school year, McCarthy said $215,000 has been awarded to 181 students through EITC; he expects to have at least the same amount available next year.
"There's no question the EITC program has benefited our school tremendously," he said.
McCarthy commended school development director Jacqueline Kerris and the participating business people. He especially praised Tony Varano Jr., a business professional and 1975 graduate of Lourdes who led the effort locally to apply the decade-old program EITC program, which has expanded under Gov. Tom Corbett's administration.
The Our Lady of Lourdes Alumni Foundation was formed in 2011 under Varano's leadership and its members spent four weeks learning about EITC. After that, they recruited other alumni and local business leaders to participate.
"Our biggest challenge is making sure the eighth-graders stay at Lourdes for the next four years and the EITC affords us the opportunity to make it easier for families to afford the tuition," McCarthy said.
Tuition for students in grades nine through 12 is $3,800, while those in kindergarten through sixth pay $2,200. Pre-kindergarten tuition is $2,600.
McCarthy said 99 percent of last year's delinquent tuition has been collected. In addition to letters written by himself and elementary school principal Sister Margaret Quinn warning parents about the consequences of not paying tuition, McCarthy said the school has used FACTS, a tuition management program, to collect payments.
Last year, the school started obtaining tuition payments from parents' savings or checking accounts. Parents can also pay with credit cards and are billed monthly.
Thanks to the generosity of Varano, McCarthy said the school was able to purchase and install 14 new security cameras inside and outside the school in the spring. The cameras and a large flat screen television monitor in the main office cost between $10,000 and $15,000.
"I can't thank Mr. Varano enough for paying for the enhanced security system," McCarthy said.
Also, McCarthy said Coal Township police have patrolled the school grounds more frequently in recent years and also walk the halls at times. He thanked Chief of Police William Carpenter and his officers for their cooperation.
New parking restriction
McCarthy said five "no parking" signs have been installed in front of the school for safety and to relieve traffic congestion during the beginning and end of the school day. He said parents may still drop off their children in front of the school, but cannot exit their vehicles to bring them into school.
Quinn said another change this year will be pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students entering the school through the Lee Korbich Memorial Gymnasium, where they will be escorted to their classrooms by their teachers or aides.
Quinn said Tara Knock (first grade), Rose Mary Purcell (third grade), Heather Krebs (third grade) and Tom Bickel (fifth grade) are new elementary teachers. She said Sister Dolores Joseph will teach Spanish to students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Quinn said there are two classes in pre-school, kindergarten, first, third and fifth grades, and she's hopeful all the elementary grades will have two classes next school year.
New full-time high school faculty members are Kelly McCarthy (math and physics) and Dianne Frick (English), who will replace the retired Grethel Vinup. Teacher Katrina Gownley was moved from fifth to seventh grade to replace the retired Sherry Repko.
Common Core program
In addition to using the curriculum developed by the Diocese of Harrisburg, Lourdes students also will participate in a national program known as Common Core that was devised by state governors.
"Common Core increases a student's thinking skills and analytical abilities to better prepare them for college and careers," Quinn said. "It affects instruction lessons and planning."
McCarthy said the school has received a $2,000 grant from Drexel University's computer science department in collaboration with the National Science Federation to establish an extracurricular robotics program. He said students will work in groups up to four per robot on projects involving mechanical design and programming. Kelly McCarthy, who underwent six weeks of training at Drexel University, will teach the program, which will prepare students for a robotics firefighting competition in April.
The school also will continue its plan to design and implement a GLOBE Imagination Station thanks to a Merck "Neighbor of Choice" community grant it received in 2012. The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program.
Events this weekend
McCarthy said the annual Raiderfest held at the school Aug. 17 was successful once again. He said Lourdes will sponsor a 5K run beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday in the school parking lot.
A back-to-school orientation for pre-school, kindergarten and first-grade students will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday in the school cafeteria. At least one parent must attend.
The first day of school for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders is Monday. Students in grades one through six and 10th, 11th and 12th grades will report Tuesday. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will start with a half-day session Thursday, Aug. 29. All students will be off Friday, Aug. 30, and Monday, Sept. 2, for Labor Day before returning to school Sept. 3.
COAL TOWNSHIP - Since its establishment in 2012, Our Lady of Lourdes Alumni Association has been very successful in raising thousands of dollars for the Catholic school through endowments, sponsorships, tuition assistance plans and the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.
The foundation is committed to maintaining and enhancing excellence in Catholic education.
Like many private schools across Pennsylvania, Lourdes' subsidies from benefactor organizations have substantially decreased. This makes outside donations to Lourdes even more crucial to maintain the sustainability and growth of the school's educational programs, as well as its scholarship funds, according to school officials.
The foundation has made a lot of progress with regional businesses that have the opportunity to donate directly to the school through the Neumann Scholarship Foundation (NSF), a charitable scholarship organization. Under the EITC program, qualified private businesses that donate to the school via the NSF are eligible to receive a tax credit of 75 to 90 percent of their donation, with credits exceeding no greater than $300,000 per taxable year. Monies designated through EITC to Lourdes are then available for need-based tuition assistance.
"Our goal is to raise awareness and rally area businesses to take advantage of money available that can help the future of OLOL," said Tony Varano, chairman of the foundation and a 1975 graduate of Lourdes. Varano serves as chief operating officer for DSG Inc., Philadelphia, a company in the pharmaceutical industry that provides software and services to support clinical trials or studies. He founded the company in 1992.
The Shamokin native got involved with helping establish the foundation after rumors had been circulating that the high school was in danger of closing when assessments to the high school from local parishes were significantly reduced, meaning money may have to be borrowed from the Diocese of Harrisburg to keep the school operating.
Varano pointed out that many people have benefited from receiving a Catholic education at Lourdes.
"There are a lot of people in the Shamokin-Mount Carmel area who can't afford to provide their children with a Catholic education. The programs being supported through the foundation will give more families a better opportunity to send their children to Lourdes."
He said the state provides approximately $100 million of business tax dollars per year through the EITC program.
The foundation will assist businesses through the simple application process and work with the NSF to ensure timely completion and that monies are designated directly to Lourdes. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application within 60 days of submission by the commonwealth.
Interested businesses can email OLOLinfo@SupportLourdes.org for more information. The Lourdes Alumni Foundation is available to answer any questions donors and prospective donors may have.
For more information, visit the OLOL alumni page on Facebook to connect with other members of the Lourdes community and receive updates on the latest foundation initiatives.