LAFLIN - Further changes are in store for the cash-strapped Diocese of Scranton school system, now facing possibilities of tuition increases, additional school consolidations and a major fundraising effort.

When these changes might occur was not clear, but they could affect the next school year.

"Decisions are going to have to be made fairly soon," said diocesan spokesman Bill Genello, who said it is unlikely changes would come this year.

Top diocesan officials, finance council representatives and board members from all four school systems met Thursday night at St. Maria Goretti Parish Center in Laflin to discuss a $5.6 million operating deficit the schools built up during the past two years.

During the closed-door meeting, Monsignor Joseph Bambera, delegate to interim diocese leader Cardinal Justin Rigali, announced a reduction in the amount parishes provide for the schools from $14.4 million to $10.9 million, according to a release from the diocese.

Parishes are to give either 10 percent of their income, or 25 percent if the income exceeds $150,000. The diocese predicts it will not be able to collect $1.9 million of the assessments for this school year because donations have dropped. The parish consolidations and the poor economy are believed to play a role, Genello said.

In addition, the diocese is operating $29.8 million in the red, with $15.2 million in school-related loans that are not being paid back, and $6 million in delinquent parish assessments, the release said.

Although changes are in store for the diocese's four school systems - Holy Cross, Holy Redeemer, St. John Neumann and Notre Dame - Genello said the systems will continue to provide Catholic education. He did not say Thursday night if any of the systems were performing stronger than the others.

"At this point, the diocese still believes Catholic education is an important part of evangelization," Genello said. "The question is, how do we do that in a way that's sustainable for the diocese, for parishes, for parents, for the community as a whole?"

Tuition at the diocesan schools is lower than the national average, Genello said.

The school boards were created in 2007 when the diocese consolidated schools. Further reductions on the elementary and middle school levels were made last year.

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