Thomas Lambert was watching a football game at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sunday when the phone rang.
"I thought somebody was pulling my leg," he said later. "Then she identified herself as a nun and I figured I could believe her."
The call came from St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, from which he had graduated in 1952. Would Lambert be willing to give the school some money?
"St. Anthony's gave me a decent start," mused the retired military man who now works in manufacturing and has not seen his alma mater in 34 years. "If it hadn't been for the nuns and the brothers there, I wouldn't have been able to do whatever I've done."
So the 52-year-old alumnus agreed to donate $150 and financially "adopt" a needy student.
"If (it can help them) keep another dummy like me off the streets," he said, "why not?"
Mary Bailey, 40, was putting her 10-year-old daughter to bed at their home in Issaquah, Wash., when she got the call. "My first reaction was surprise," said the 1964 graduate who now works as an X-ray technician. "My second was that they must be really hurting."
Welcome to the first annual St. Anthony High School phone-a-thon.
For 66 years, St. Anthony--the only Catholic high school in Long Beach--has been a downtown landmark. In the late 1950s, according to school officials, more than 1,800 students graced its halls. Then, said Gail Stewart, director of development and public relations, the institution was a "very exclusive private school" attended mostly by white students whose parents had the money for tuition.
But times have changed.
Today, officials say, enrollment is down to 825. Reflecting the changing demographics of the inner city, the student body is only 35% white, the rest being mostly Latino, Asian or black. And reflecting the hard times that have hit Catholic education in general, coffers that once bulged are now thin.
"What we are facing," said Sister Marion Kikukawa, the school's principal, "is the reality that we cannot survive on our tuition and what we get from our parish."
Calling 2,000 Alumni
So they organized the school's first phone-a-thon, a six-day marathon during which a volunteer army of teachers, parents and students will attempt to reach as many as 2,000 alumni in a personal appeal for funds. Judging from the initial take--$5,815 in the first hour--the idea has potential.
"It's very cost effective," said Brother Stephen Walsh, a St. Anthony graduate and principal of Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks where a phone-a-thon last year raised $76,000. Because of the success of that and earlier efforts, Walsh was recently hired as a part-time consultant to St. Anthony. "It gets alumni into the habit of giving," he said of the telephone campaign. "Big donations grow from small donations."
Kikukawa blames the Long Beach school's financial troubles on the rising costs of Catholic education. In 1980-81, she said, it cost $643,300--or $765 per student--to run the school. By last year the bill had risen to $1.1 million, or about $1,335 per student. And this year's projected budget, she said, is nearly $1.3 million, or about $1,555 per student.
The increases, she said, are due primarily to technological advances in instruction requiring expensive new equipment, and, more importantly, a gradual shift in the teaching staff away from nuns and priests who are in the service of the church, to lay teachers who must be paid wages competitive with those offered by the public school system.
Traditionally, she said, the school's expenses have been covered primarily by tuition--which now runs $1,200 a year for Catholics and $1,300 for non-Catholics--supplemented by parish donations and modest fund-raising activities such as carnivals, magazine drives and chocolate candy sales.
But a growing list of much-needed capital improvements, she said, has reached the point where it can no longer be ignored. And the demographic changes have raised concerns in some quarters that there may be limits to the amount of tuition future students will be able to afford.
So earlier this year, the school hired its first full-time director of development to begin seeking private corporate funding and to create other ways of enhancing St. Anthony's financial condition. And working diligently for more than nine months, a team of administrators, teachers and staff came up with a five-year plan which they hope will give the school new direction.
It is an ambitious 26-page document calling for, among other things, recruiting efforts aimed at bringing enrollment to 850; increases in faculty salaries to effect a "dramatic improvement" in "the revolving door which presently characterizes the staffing pattern," and an array of capital improvements ranging from testing the school's fire sprinkler system to renovating the chemistry lab and refinishing the gym floor.