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Students wait to be picked up after school at Lighthouse Christian Academy on Monday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Despite not having to deal with statewide and local budget cuts, some private schools in Santa Monica are still feeling the financial crunch.

“Less people have been able to pay tuition or full tuition, which means we’ve taken a [financial] hit,” said Peter Czer, assisting pastor at Lighthouse Christian Academy. “We’ve tried to do fundraisers, but it’s been tough right now … . We’ve had to cut personnel costs, which means lower salaries for teachers.”

Lighthouse is just one of a number of private schools in Santa Monica, including Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, St. Anne School, St. Monica Catholic Schools, Pacifica Christian High School and New Roads School.

Lighthouse charges a monthly tuition of $500 per student and an annual $500 or $600 registration fee.

However, despite enrollment being up, family financial troubles have made it difficult for every student to pay the full amount to attend.

“Even if they can only pay half or three-fourths, it’s still something to pay the bills,” Czer said. “What we say is, ‘we want to help you out as much as we can, what can you pay?’”

Across town, New Roads has also seen an increase in the number of families in need of financial aid.

Despite designating 40 percent of its operating budget to increase financial aid, 70 families were still unable to enroll this year because of financial difficulties, said Amy Simon, director of development at New Roads.

The school is funded primarily through tuition dollars and private donations. About 50 percent of students receive financial aid.

Similarly, Crossroads is also supported mainly by tuition and donations, offering tuition reductions based on need.

“We don’t really do fundraising,” said Heidi Lee, manager of Crossroad’s annual fund and major gifts.

At St. Monica, where families needing financial aid has increased about 10 percent, the administration is focusing, instead, on larger, events-based fundraisers for both its elementary and high schools.

Although smaller fundraisers, such as selling Christmas trees, candy bars and baked goods, provide incentives for students to raise money to keep fees for special programs lower, larger-scale fundraisers have more of an impact.

Next month, the school is holding its sixth annual Wine Tasting and Silent Auction, which will auction off three personal training sessions donated by Fitness Together.

The event, which was originally organized by parents and teachers, typically raises about $50,000 each year, said Tom Gasper, president of St. Monica.

“In these economic times, it becomes crucial to keep the tuition low. If we can keep the tuition reasonable, then we can get the parents and teachers associations to fundraise for the things tuition can’t cover,” Gasper said.

In September, Lighthouse held a golf tournament fundraiser that raised about $26,000 in net profits, but school officials said that the funds won’t cover much beyond two-month’s mortgage.

The school is relying on cutting costs and combining classes. Most teachers have taken salary reductions, resulting in some teachers leaving and others becoming full-time volunteers.

“A lot of these problems were here last year, and that’s why we had to make changes through the summer. It seems that things are working out. It’s just tight and it’s a lot of work for a lot of people,” said Czer.

Sometimes, a little outreach is needed to help private schools stay afloat.

“The key that I found is finding partners in our parents and in our community. We’ve had to be smarter about who those people are … and asking those people to help us,” Gasper said.

news@smdp.com

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