Updated April 3, 3:20 p.m.

The future of St. Barbara School in Brookfield will crystallize as early as today and no later than May 1, now that the parish’s pastor has set firm benchmarks for enrollment for the 2012-13 school year.

At a special meeting March 28 of parish families and officials from St. Barbara and the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education, the Rev. Robert Casey said that 50 students must be enrolled in grades K-8 for the next school year by April 4, and 85 must be enrolled by May 1 – or the school will close its doors.

“We are at the point where we’re saying to the archdiocese, ‘This is our reality.’ We’re at the point where we don’t have wiggle room.”

While the numbers of 50 and 85 don’t appear to be giant hurdles, in fact it represents a real challenge. There are just 56 children enrolled in grades K-8 this year, and six are graduating. The school has a total enrollment of 76, counting preschool classes.

Getting to 85 students in grades K through 8 represents a 52 percent increase in enrollment for next year for a school that has seen its total enrollment drop by 42 percent since 2009.

Prior to the March 28 meeting, the school had two students enrolled for the coming school year. That means that just two families had applied and paid the $100 registration fee. By the end of the meeting several more families had committed students for next year.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Mark Ferjak, who attended the meeting with his wife, Michelle. The Ferjaks have two children at St. Barbara this year and one who will enter preschool next year. “It’s a good lesson, to stick things out.”

Casey said the parish needs to know that the enrollment will be there soon in order to prepare for the next school year. In addition to teachers needing to know whether or not they have jobs, Casey is in the process of searching for a new principal. Janet Erazmus, the principal of St. Barbara for the past 20 years will be retiring at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

“Our teachers are anxious to know where things are,” Casey told an audience of about 75 to 100 people, including current and former school parents, parishioners, school and parish staff and archdiocesan officials, gathered in the gym of the parish center in the 4000 block of Prairie Avenue.

While Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, was in attendance at the meeting, she did not address the audience. On March 27, the Landmark contacted McCaughey to discuss St. Barbara’s future, but she referred all questions to Casey.

Enrollment is just part of the equation for charting a future for St. Barbara School. In addition, Casey on Wednesday night also set a financial benchmark for the parish to meet in order to keep the school thriving.

The archdiocese has pledged $75,000 to help pay expenses at St. Barbara School next year, said Casey. The parish must match that grant by raising $150,000.

“We’re asking our school families and parishioners to say yes to this fundraising commitment,” Casey said.

The parish will be seeking pledges from parishioners and school families, and began the effort on March 28 by passing out pledge forms to those who wanted one. They were also passed out at Masses on Sunday.

“It’ll give us a sense of where people are at with support for our parish and school,” Casey said.

That pledge is in addition to the tuition and fees charged for each student. While tuition rates won’t be going up next year – they’ll remain at $4,230 for one student – the school is adding a $450 fundraising requirement. Including all fees, it will cost $5,155 to send one child to St. Barbara School next year.

The school will also be changing its instruction model should the school hit the enrollment and financial numbers they’ve set as goals.

St. Barbara will be moving to multiage classrooms, that is, more than one grade level per classroom. A similar model was adopted in part at St. Louise de Marillac School in LaGrange Park this year.

Casey said he wanted school families to see next year’s challenges and changes as an opportunity to move ahead.

“We need to pay attention to the positive energy,” said Casey. “It’s in your hands to go out and make it happen.”