DeSales High School is now free of debt

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

DeSales High School's former monastery was razed Oct. 18. The school has begun a campus-wide renovation and improvement project. (Record Photo by Glenn Rutherford)
DeSales High School’s former monastery was razed Oct. 18. The school has begun a campus-wide renovation and improvement project. (Record Photo by Glenn Rutherford)

In 2004 DeSales High School was $2.6 million in debt.

Now, thanks to the efforts of the school’s administration and staff — and with a lot of assistance from the Archdiocese of Louisville — the boys’ high school on Kenwood Drive is debt free.

DeSales has been an archdiocese-sponsored, self-sufficient school since 2004, something it continues to be. What changed that allowed them to attack and eventually eliminate their debt was an agreement with archdiocesan leadership which allowed the school to improve its facilities and, at the same time, lower the debt.

“The new sponsorship agreement (which was signed in the 2006-2007 school year) set us up to be a success,” said Doug Strothman, DeSales president.

Under the initial 2004 sponsorship agreement, the school transferred a third of the funds raised during capital campaigns to the archdiocese, according to Joshua Blandford, the high school’s director of development. “The amended agreement said that for each dollar we spent upgrading the facilities — which are owned by the archdiocese — the archdiocese would in turn reduce our debt, dollar for dollar,” Blandford explained.

For its part, the archdiocese has been delighted to see the school improve its facilities and reduce its debt, said Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese.

“We’re very proud of the progress that DeSales has made,” Reynolds said. “Seven years ago, the school leadership and board approached us about their desire to take on more responsibility for the governance and management of the school.”

They “proposed a number of initiatives that would allow the future of the school to be in their hands,” the chancellor explained. “Among their efforts was a significant commitment to making capital investments in the school.”

As the school invested in itself, “we were pleased to be able to assist their progress by reducing the debt owed to the archdiocese,” Reynolds said.

Judy Heare, Desales’ director of finance, also noted that the school leadership “took a risk and raised tuition 17 percent” in 2003 and 2004. That increase brought the school’s tuition cost “more in line with the value of the education we’re providing,” Heare said.

Now that it is debt free, DeSales is in the process of renewing its campus — adding an athletic stadium for home football, soccer and baseball games, for instance.

Inside the school, a new biology laboratory has already been completed. And on Oct. 17, the on-campus monastery, which once housed priests who taught at DeSales, was demolished. That will allow the school to completely change its traffic flow and the overall appearance of the campus.

“What we’ll be doing now is going right back into debt because we’re able to borrow money ourselves,” Strothman noted.

The school has already raised $1.65 million in long-term pledges and commitments, he added, as part of the program to re-make the campus. It intends to raise about $4 million, which would allow DeSales “to make all the changes we want to make,” he said.

“Rather than have a traditional capital campaign, we’ve kind of moved to the university model,” he added. (That model is one in which a school raises enough money to provide a picture of financial stability to financial donors, institutions and investors. That, in turn, gives the school the ability to borrow money on its own for major improvements.)

As the school has grown, Strothman noted, its academic performance has improved, too. DeSales students now average scores of 22.8 on the ACT, a figure that is up three points from two or three years ago, the president said.

“God has been smiling on us,” director of finance Heare said. “If that hadn’t been the case, we wouldn’t have moved forward the way we have.”

And Strothman said he has gratitude for those people “who’ve had, for lack of a better term, blind faith in us.”

“They were willing to take a risk and watch us move forward,” he said.

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