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Ingleside Catholic school to remain open after raising $400K; ‘Our focus is on sustainability’

An Ingleside Catholic school will stay open for the next academic year after raising more than enough money to cover a budget deficit from the loss of a state tax credit scholarship program.

The St. Bede School raised more than $425,000 from a student-started fundraiser just 32 days after the Archdiocese of Chicago informed the community the K-8 school — whose current enrollment is 182 — would close after this school year unless money to cover the deficit was raised by the end of January. The funds will cover salaries, benefits, utility and curriculum costs.

The Rev. George Koeune of Our Lake of the Lakes Parish told parishioners and school families Friday that the Chicago Archdiocese Cardinal Blase Cupich accepted the recommendation to keep the school open.

“We are grateful for the joyous news, a testament to the efforts made by so many,” St. Bede Co-Principal Lynne Strutzel said. “We received contributions and support from those near and far.”

Contributions to save the school came from school families, alumni, businesses, neighboring Catholic schools and even strangers. Strutzel said now the school’s biggest concern is a long-term financial sustainability plan.

“Our focus is on sustainability,” the co-principal said. “We feel an obligation to those dollars not to take their money and have it be one and done.”

The private school faced a budget cliff after Illinois’ school choice scholarship program, Invest in Kids, expired in November. The program granted tax credits to people who donated to scholarships that allow low-income students to attend private schools.

Thirty-one St. Bede School students benefited from the public scholarships, amounting to about $145,000 in tuition dollars, according to Strutzel. Tuition is a large source of a Catholic school’s budget — the rest is offset by parish dollars, donations and fundraising.

“In addition to operating expenses, the struggle we have now will be enrollment because we rely on tuition to maintain the income that we need in order to move forward,” Strutzel said.

The school is seeking sponsors to mitigate any future fiscal crises. The school is working on two potential business sponsorships, and several local businesses have also offered to contribute to a scholarship to support low-income students who lost scholarships through Invest in Kids, according to Strutzel.

The Archdiocese of Chicago will also offer scholarships to replace some of the program deficit, according to the Office of Catholic Education. Over 5,000 students across the archdiocese relied on the scholarship.

Over a thousand donations were made to St. Bede School, most through a GoFundMe started by Susan Lutzke, a St. Bede alum and current senior at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein.

“I am thankful to all that made it possible to keep the school open,” Lutzke said. “The lesson I learned over the past few weeks is that it is still possible to make a difference if you just take a chance.”

The Office of Catholic Schools congratulated the St. Bede school community on the “incredible achievement,” and said it hopes it puts the school on a path of “continued sustainability.”

“This effort reflects how much Catholic schools are valued and needed in their communities,” said a statement from the office. “The support from neighboring Catholic schools, in particular, demonstrates how connected we are in our mission of faith and service.”

The office is hoping donors continue to contribute, even with the loss of the tax credit.

Two suburban Chicago Catholic schools will close at the end of the school year because the tax credit scholarship program ended, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced on Thursday.

Between the two schools in Cicero and Berwyn, 164 students attended through the tax credit scholarship program, the archdiocese said.

“They’re the victims, it’s always the underserved who are the victims,” Strutzel said.

chilles@chicagotribune.com