Financially Sustainable Models for Schools, Dr. Jeffrey C. Lemke
If you are 40 or older and a lifelong Lutheran, you remember a time when it was common for a Lutheran church to offer elementary school education to member children for almost no cost. That has become increasingly more challenging, for multiple reasons.
First, the cost of education has risen. In the 70’s and 80’s, there were too many situations where called workers were having trouble supporting their families. Thus, in 2002 our church body adopted compensation guidelines to catch called workers’ wages up to inflation. Add in other factors like the rising cost of health insurance, liability insurance, facility maintenance, etc. The per pupil cost has risen must faster than the rate of inflation.
Second, school enrollment has, to a degree, paralleled synod membership, which has been in decline since 1991. As congregations grew smaller, so did enrollment. Economy of scale is lost, further driving up the per pupil cost.
So here is the reality. A culture of expectation often exists. “My child deserves a free Lutheran education.” Yet, it is becoming more difficult for that to happen. It can create challenges for the church.
- You have tension between members. Some want the school subsidized at all costs. Others feel the school consumes so many resources, it does not allow the congregation to engage in other mission efforts like evangelism.
- You have viability concerns expressed by leadership. They see the school being possible, for now, because there is an inverted population pyramid; i.e. many elderly, not as many children. They know as some of those elderly members go to their true home, the school will cease to be viable.
- You have the discussions about utilizing government programs like tax credits or vouchers. Will these come with strings attached? What happens if the government suddenly stops the program?
In this session, we will wrestle with this challenge issue. We will reaffirm that Lutheran schools are a gift from God that can well serve the mission of the Church. We will also see that the responsibility of Lutheran leadership is to come up with a financial model for school that not only allows for mission balance, but also provides long term sustainability.
Dr. Jeffrey C. Lemke
Dr. Lemke, the VP of Admissions and Enrollment for Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minn., specializes in community outreach, marketing, and international recruitment. Before BLC, Lemke directed a city program that assisted new immigrants in transition, a role that included grant writing and community partnership development. Lemke then served as Director of Admissions, Marketing and International Programs for St. Croix Lutheran; interviewing and negotiating contracts with marketing firms that project the school’s brand throughout the community and globe. Lemke attended Atonement in Milwaukee, SCL in the Twin Cities, and Wisconsin Lutheran College. Lemke earned a Doctoral Degree in Education Administration from Bethel University. Teaching on the topic of Christian school financial management and enrollment sustainability is a passion; he serves Martin Luther College in online instruction and as a consultant for multiple international student ministries.