One of Canberra's oldest systemic Catholic primary schools is facing closure because of a drop in government funding and low enrolments.
The future of St Bede's Primary School in Red Hill is in doubt as the government estimates parents in the relatively wealthy inner-south suburb have the capacity to pay higher fees.
Parents were told fees would need to increase by 17 per cent each year until 2029, reaching $15,000 per year, to remain open based on current enrolments.
Shocked and upset families are rallying to save the school after finding out the Catholic Education Commission was starting community consultation.
Catholic Education in Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese director Ross Fox said closure of the school was possible, but all options would be considered to keep the school open.
"This is arising in particular because of funding cuts and higher fee expectations from the ACT government," he said.
"That's disappointing, but Catholic Education in each of its schools has to face the reality of those government decisions."
Mr Fox said in a letter that St Bede's would lose 25 per cent of its government funding over eight years and its income would not cover costs within three years.
From 2020 a direct measure of income has been used to calculate the ability of parents to pay for the operation of non-government schools.
St Bede's had the highest direct measure of income out of all schools in the archdiocese, at 115.
Mr Fox said if the school was to close, all of the 140 students currently enrolled would be offered places at nearby Catholic schools in Narrabundah, Garran, Pearce and Curtin.
Teachers and other staff would also be offered positions elsewhere in the Catholic school system.
The Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese received about $11.4 million from the Commonwealth government's Choice and Affordability Fund in 2020 and is slated to get about $1 million per year until 2029 to assist with the transition to the new funding model.
Mr Fox said all sources of income would be taken into account in determining the future of St Bede's.
"Transition funding is exactly that, it's just a transition," he said.
"Our hope would be that we could continue to offer a great Catholic Education at every one of our schools."
If enrolments were increased to 400, the archdiocese estimates fees would still need to increase to about $8400 per year while money would need to be spent on expanding the campus.
Principal Julie Douglas wrote to families after the announcement, encouraging the board and school community to rally together.
"St Bede's is an amazing school which has a reputation across the Catholic School system as welcoming, inclusive and one that provides quality education," she said in the letter.
"We have always prided ourselves on our size being an advantage so that we can deliver the best outcomes for each child and provide wonderful experiences.
"It is vitally important that we collectively band together to contest the proposal and be involved in completing surveys, attending town hall meetings and rally wider community support for our cause."
A spokeswoman for a group of St Bede's parents said the announcement days before the Easter school holidays had left the entire school community confused and upset.
"The St Bede's community put its faith in Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn to advocate in the best and ongoing interests of our school, and we will continue to work with them to find a solution to keep our school open," the spokeswoman said.
"St Bede's may be a small school but it's a big community. And we're committed to securing the future of our school."
A working group has been formed to steer the consultation. The group includes the principal, assistant principal, board chair and parish priest.
Town hall meetings will be held on Tuesday April 20 and Wednesday May 12, and an online survey will be open for submissions until April 27.
"I'm expecting to hear how much the school is valued, how much teachers are valued and the important place this school has in the community," Mr Fox said.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse will make the final call on the school's future by the end of May based on the recommendations of the working group and the Catholic Education Commission.
St Bede's Primary School was opened in 1963 by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
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