Where the boys are


POSTED: Saturday, August 01, 2009

How do you improve the odds of having full private school enrollment in a down year?

Easy, hold the tuition, but bring on the boys.

For the first time in its 85-year-old history, St. Francis School will have boys in its freshman class. Seventeen boys began their high school studies at St. Francis on Tuesday in a move that will ensure the school's future, said the head of St. Francis School, Sister Joan of Arc Souza, who graduated in 1961 when the school was all girls.

“;We went from 62 freshmen to 80 this year, and enrollment from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 is up to 415, from 385 last year,”; Souza said.

In addition to making the decision to go fully coed this year, St. Francis also deliberately held tuition costs and continued to offer family discounts to ease the financial burden on families. As a result, the school, which was founded in 1924 to train young women to work with victims of Hansen's disease, landed a mention in SmartMoney magazine as one of the best private school bargains.

Few other Hawaii private schools have been as fortunate in the enrollment department, but all have implemented creative corporate strategies designed to help them move to the head of the class. Damien Memorial is exploring corporate partnerships and is spending money to make money. Punahou School moderated its tuition and kept new offerings in check, while 'Iolani School upped its fundraising efforts.

St. Francis

While many private school student rolls in Hawaii have dropped, forcing teacher layoffs and other cutbacks, there were enough extra students at St. Francis to make budget, Souza said.

“;Everything is going up, but we are doing the best that we can,”; Souza said. “;We are cutting corners where we can cut corners. So far the budget is looking healthy, and we should be just fine.”;

Adding boys to St. Francis attracted the Pagala family of Aiea, who said they were looking for an affordable private school for their son and daughter.

“;We wanted them to go to the same school,”; said Audrey Pagala.

The family sacrificed to make the move from public to private school, she said.

“;No more movies, no more restaurants,”; Pagala said. “;It's been hard, but it's been good for our family morale. We've grown closer.”;

Janice Lum, who has two daughters at St. Francis, said most parents will make every effort to keep their kids in private school.

“;You can't be lazy,”; Lum said. “;We do whatever we can to save money—I have blisters from doing my own yard.”;

Just as the school is trying to hold costs, so are the families, said Audrey Watson, who has two daughters at St. Francis.

“;My husband had to retire so we are really cutting back,”; Watson said. “;I even air-dry my laundry to keep the electric bill down.”;


Still, sometimes spending money is the best strategy for making money. Despite the down economy, school President Bernard Ho, who hails from a corporate background and came out of private-sector retirement to take on the challenge of managing the all-boys Catholic school, is going ahead with an aggressive facility improvement campaign.

“;Improvements will make this school even more appealing,”; Ho said, adding that the school will be painted and there will be new bleachers in the gym and upgraded student desks when classes begin.

Damien is also installing four large commercial fans to help cool down the facility more efficiently and save energy costs over the long haul, he said.

“;We are working very aggressively to solicit financial assistance funds so that we can encourage those young men who would otherwise not be able to come to private school,”; Ho said.

Damien held the tuition increase at 4 percent, Ho said. The school also tightened its internal operating budget and cut five teaching positions to help weather the storm, he said.

“;We are budgeting for a shortfall this year and are looking for additional fundraising opportunities,”; Ho said, adding that a travel partnership with Panda Travel is just one of the ways that Damien is earning additional revenue.

However, one area that Damien did not cut was its increasingly important financial aid department, which Ho said they were able to increase by another $300,000 this year. Some 40 percent of students receive financial aid, Ho said.

Twin brothers Austyn and Beau Flores, who are both juniors at Damien, say they are thankful for the chance that their parents and Damien has provided for them.

“;We really appreciate this opportunity that our parents are giving us,”; Beau said. “;We have to do our part.”;

Since their parents work multiple jobs and volunteer at the school to earn enough money to pay private tuition for three students, the twins said that they have taken over many of the family household chores.

“;We understand the situation and the sacrifices that our parents are making for us, so we help around the house as much as possible,”; Austyn said.


“;Doing more with less”; is the strategy at Punahou School, said Punahou President Dr. James Scott.

While Punahou's enrollment is consistent with its five-year average, President Barack Obama's high school alma mater is grappling with increased operating costs and a 22 percent decline in its endowment.

Punahou is moving forward with the construction of its K-1 project, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010; however, Scott said all departments have reduced their budgets and that the school is reviewing all other significant capital improvements and rescheduling those that can be delayed.

In an effort to help families who are investing in private school education despite these financially uncertain times, Punahou's board elected to moderate its tuition increase for 2009 and increased its financial aid budget by 10 percent this year and last, Scott said.

“;The number of financial aid applications from current and prospective families increased by 14 percent this year over last,”; he said, adding that 12 percent of Punahou's students will receive need-based financial aid this school year, with the average award amount increasing to $8,380.


Finding new donors and tapping existing resources more heavily has enabled 'Iolani School to thrive in trying economic times, said Headmaster Val Iwashita.

Donors were generous this year at 'Iolani School, enabling the $15,600-a-year school to increase its financial-aid budget by some 25 percent, Iwashita said.

“;Those that had means were just as generous if not more generous than they had been in the past,”; Iwashita said. “;I think the economic downturn underscored the need.”;

A concerted effort to raise more money for its Father Stone scholarship paid off, too, he said.

“;It freed up endowment money for other scholarships,”; Iwashita said. “;That's good since we've seen financial aid applications grow by 25 to 30 percent.”;