Keeping Catholic education affordable and paying Catholic school educators a living wage need not be mutually exclusive.
An important factor is the Diocesan Excellence in Education Fund (DEEF), a separately incorporated endowment that helps the Jefferson City diocese’s 37 Catholic grade schools and three Catholic high schools pay their teachers better.
A board of trustees appointed by the bishop oversees the proper investment of DEEF’s principal assets and allocates annual grants to qualifying Catholic schools in the diocese.
“If you look at the budget of a parish that has a school, at least half if not more is for their school,” stated John Wegman, who recently completed his term as president of the DEEF board. “Of that, probably 90 percent is the teachers’ salaries.
“If DEEF can help with that, then it’s helping the whole school,” he said.
The DEEF board this past fall distributed $580,500 to parishes and schools.
That went directly toward bolstering teachers’ base salary.
To receive funding, a school must pay its teachers at least 85 percent of what teachers make in the local public school district.
The size of each school’s grant depends on number of full-time and part-time teachers in each school, and the yield of the previous fiscal year’s investments.
Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, now deceased, established DEEF in 1990 and initiated a five-year capital campaign to build up the endowment.
“As the Church, we need to model just salaries,” he stated in announcing the effort. “We cannot, however, expect the parishes to do this alone, so we are establishing this fund to which many persons can contribute.”
Businesses and corporations that benefit from the presence of Catholic schools within their communities as well as individuals who have benefited from their Catholic educations were asked to contribute.
The idea was to keep the money invested and only make grants from the interest or dividends it generates each year.
The endowment received another influx of money as part of the diocese’s three-year capital campaign in 2006-08.
Additional money has come from large individual gifts and bequests from people’s estates.
John Wegman, a member of Immaculate Conception parish in Jefferson City, has been on the DEEF board since in 2005 and recently served two terms as its president.
He said that under the board’s oversight, DEEF investments generate solid returns without subjecting the fund to too much risk.
The DEEF investment manager is required to follow the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ investment guidelines, “so we don’t invest in anything that goes against our Catholic beliefs,” said Mr. Wegman.
The distribution amount sent each fall to the parishes/schools is based on their number of full-time equivalent faculty.
Mr. Wegman and his wife Connie both attended Immaculate Conception School and Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, as did their children.
He believes unequivocally that families’, parishes’ and the diocese’s investment in Catholic education is worth the effort and cost.
“It’s so important to have curriculum in the school that’s more than just the basic information,” he said. “You also have to have the spiritual and the religious aspect. You need clearly defined morals and values to be part of your education through all of elementary school and high school. That’s all the more important today, when a lot of those values are no longer being held up in society.”
He said he’s amazed at how many people he talks to who have never heard of DEEF.
“I think if more people knew about it, more people would be interested in helping us grow this thing,” he said. “I think it’s one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind things. But it’s really a great way for people to help with Catholic education.”
People who wish to support the Diocesan Excellence in Education Fund either through a direct contribution or as part of the estate-planning process should contact Jake Seifert, diocesan development director, at (573) 635-9127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.