Lutheran High School, with just 11 graduating seniors, to close - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lutheran High School, with just 11 graduating seniors, to close after 45 years

(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Lutheran High School of Hawaii, which opened its doors 45 years ago, will close at the end of the school year because of low enrollment.

The school has struggled to boost its student count for years.

This school year, the student has just 38 students -- with only one in the middle school grades. That's down from 50 in the 2014-15 school, and 100 five years ago.

"We just ran out of options," said Bill Carney, pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, which owns Lutheran High.

Carney told students, their families and faculty last week that the school would be closing at the end of the school year.

"We didn't want tuition to be a burden to the parents," he said. "We have a lot of financial aid packages for the students and families. But I know the tuition does not cover the cost per child to run the school."

The news was met with sadness, but also with some relief. A cloud of uncertainty had hung over the campus for some time, Carney said, and at the very least, the announcement brings some closure.

School officials tried just about everything they could think of to boost enrollment and funding, and trim expenses. Teachers took salary cuts and declined health insurance coverage. There were fundraisers, and public calls for support. 

Ultimately, the efforts weren't enough -- not when competition for students from other private, public and charter schools was only growing.

Robert Landau, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said other small private schools face similar challenges.

"A school that is completely tuition-dependent and is not doing advancement or fundraising work outside the tuition -- with the rising cost around us -- are going to find it more challenging," he said.

At its peak, Lutheran High's enrollment hovered around 200 students, and graduating classes averaged 20 or more.

This year, there are 11 seniors graduating.

Carney said the rest of the student body is getting counseling and support to transition to other schools. "The administration is going to sit down with each and every student individually and plan out where they go from here," he said.

The school's final graduation is on May 20.

"Come July, when school begins again, the hallways will be empty," Carney said. "It'll be a sad day."

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