Parents under pressure and paying a high price for private school tuition

Jerry Agag
Jerry Agag
Sister Joan of Arc Souza
Sister Joan of Arc Souza

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Jerry Agag has no time to waste.  He's heading from one full-time job to another.

"I usually work 16 hours everyday", he says.

Agag carries that load so he can send his 13-year-old twin boys, James and Joseph, and his 16-year-old, Garrett - a drummer in the marching band - to Damien Memorial School.

It's a rhythm the family knows well. The boys and their older sister only see their dad on Sundays. During the week, they're asleep when gets home, and Agag wakes before dawn to start his work day all over again.

Like Agag, more parents are feeling the pressure of paying for private school tuition and carrying heavy burdens for their kids' education. Agag's wife also works full-time and like many parents, it's not just the long hours. It's also sacrificing things like new cars, time with friends, and sleep.

Is it worth it? "I guess it is," Agag answers, "because I see my kids and then, they actually grow better everyday". But there are times he admits he just wants to stay home with his family and work one job. "I do it for them."

With job losses, furloughs, pay cuts, and an all-around tough economy, parents are having a hard time making the grade so their kids can attend private schools.

Who can blame them? Tuition at four of Hawaii's five largest private high schools runs between 13-thousand and 17-thousand dollars a year. About 17-percent of the state's students get a private education. That's well above the national average of 11-percent. And when families have two, three, or even more kids going private, that's a high price to pay.

To make ends meet, school administrators say more parents are turning to financial assistance. At Damien, for instance, about 43-percent of students receive financial aid.  At St. Francis school, it's 40-percent.

Sister Joan of Arc Souza heads St. Francis and says the school often works out deals with parents. "Some of them will do things for in-kind service, like a plumber, an electrician. The school needs something done, and they'll come do it, and we deduct the tuition".

To keep that tuition down, Sister Joan of Arc has also had to be creative by renting out the school auditorium, parking spaces, even the campus pools.

She sighs and admits it's not easy. "Oh, it's very tough, especially when there's nothing we can work out".

'Sacrifice' seems to be just part of the curriculum for moms and dads these days. It may be students who are back in class, but it's often their parents who are getting schooled in economics.

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