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Area Christian schools officials say they now are forced to consider a somewhat uncertain future in the wake of David Brainerd Christian School's closing Tuesday.

In an economy that has left many parents pinching pennies, the abundance of Chattanooga private schools charging tuition are competing for a shrunken pool of students, administrators say.

In the East Brainerd area alone, David Brainerd was one of at least eight private Christian schools.

"There are probably more (Christian schools) than there is the market for right now," said Lanny Witt, president of Boyd-Buchanan School, one of the eight. "Right now, we're probably a tad saturated."

While administrators at several schools say proactive budget cuts will help them avoid David Brainerd's fate - at least for the coming year - most say they've lost anywhere from 3 to 10 percent of their students.

And in addition to steep competition for students, the economy has made new public school options such as Hamilton County's Signal Mountain Middle-High School and the soon-to-open East Hamilton School even more appealing.

Of Hamilton County's roughly 50,000 school-aged children, more than 11,000 - or about 22 percent - attend private schools. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, Hamilton County is home to 42 private schools, which enroll anywhere from fewer than five students to more than 1,000 at Chattanooga Christian School.

Hamilton Heights Christian Academy purposely caps its enrollment at 80 students, but this year officials couldn't fill those spots, said Principal Duke Stone.

"We pretty well saw this coming, with East Hamilton and how the economy would affect private schools," he said. "We'll probably be down 10 percent from what we've been."

Reports that Tennessee Temple Academy was closing have circulated for the past year, but new Principal Debbie Hamilton said she hopes such talk has died down. The K-12 school did see a drop in enrollment last year after several years of new administrators, but Ms. Hamilton said she "plans to move forward" with opening again this fall.

"Rumors had generated on Facebook and we were getting lots of calls (about closing)," she said. "But we are not concerned about closing, absolutely not."

Last year, Tennessee Temple, which is located downtown on Bailey Avenue, enrolled about 200 students, but Ms. Hamilton said she did not have a projected enrollment number for the 2009-10 school year.

Messages left for administrators at Chattanooga Christian School and Grace and Silverdale Baptist academies were not returned Wednesday.

While more expensive prep schools such as McCallie, Baylor and Girls Preparatory may have lost some students due to the economy, they often can make up those losses with others on their waiting list, said Jill Royka, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools.

It is some of the smaller private schools supported by middle-class parents hit harder by the recession that concern her organization, she said.

Tammie Wright is the administrator of Battlefield Parkway Christian Academy, a small K-12 school in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., that enrolls fewer than 40 students. Although her program has grown from an initial nine students several years ago, it still has room for at least 60 more, she said.

Despite the school's modest enrollment, Ms. Wright said she remains optimistic for the future of small Christian schools such as hers.

"I do believe the families who want their children to have a Christian education will do whatever it takes to get that," Ms. Wright said. "I think there will always be a place for that in our community."

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