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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

JO Review: These Are Solutions?

I got sidetracked from my Jewish Observer "Tuition Dilemma" Review, but now that Yeshiva World News has re-posted an article from that edition, I thought I would try to return to the review, at least temporarily.

At one time I had a draft on file regarding this article, but I deleted it because I couldn't hold myself back from making very rude comments in regards to assertions such as "Yeshivos have become very creative and entrepreneurial in finding ways to close their budget gaps." And "To an honest and realistic person, our school administrator knows his business very well. He has been successful in steering the ship through very choppy waters. This same executive director or administrator has become so talented at balancing the budget, his skills match those of any corporate CFO. The fact that he stays at the yeshiva is in itself real mesiras nefesh." While I don't doubt there is some stellar financial management going on, I would say this assertion is over-gratuitous. I'll hold try to hold my tongue, but we have discussed non-payment of Yeshiva employees and unsuccessful and even loosing fundraisers. Hopefully the author had something else in mind in regards to "creative and entrepreneurial ways to close the budget gap."

The main thrust of the article was to offer "solutions" to the problems of funding yeshiva educations. These "solutions" were put forward:

1. Solicit Big Money Donors.
2. Lobby for Tax Relief.
3. Lobby for Tuition Vouchers.

Oy! If this is the level of thinking that we are seeing, then I can only fear that nothing will be done to make a dent in tuition. Regarding #3, vouchers were just defeated on referendum in the State of Utah. Regarding #2, a frum family in Los Angeles already tried to deduct tuition for religious subjects, 55%, and fought their case up the latter in tax court with the backing of Agudah. They lost on appeal and in over 10 years there has been no light at the end of the tunnel. Vouchers and tax relief are just not happening (sorry to be so pessimistic and/or realistic). To put all of our eggs in this basket would be like adding a line item into the budget to buy lotto tickets weekly. I do believe we should lobby for vouchers and tax relief, but we cannot rely on a miracle and have to take a different approach.

Solution 1 is the best of the 3 that has been put forward by the author. But in my opinion there are major, major, major impediments to inspiring both major and minor donors. We have too much to support and no priorities. Kollelim and Kiruv have won out over day schools. Donors have been alienated. There is little to no financial transparency. There is duplicity and little to no unity (e.g. an Orthodox School Region/District). Donors/Parents have little control (elected boards for our regions/districts). For related reading see: Eliot Pasik (and here) and George Hanus (founder of the Superfund in Chicago).

Let's be honest. If you had millions to give, would you turn your money over? And to what school?

To be continued.


Ahavah B. said...

Honestly, if I won the lottery, millions and millions of dollars, I would start my own school - I wouldn't give them a dime. And it would have real academic study along with Torah and insist the students take vocational classes such as typing, secretarial, bookkeeping/accounting, various shop classes for things we encounter every day - basic plumbing, small engine repair, etc. Also, it would make every effort to get kids into a real college to earn a real degree in a field that will gain them market rate employment. We cannot go on pretending that our kids don't need to do these things.

David said...

(aol) me too (/aol)

I couldn't agree with Ahuvah more - I don't think that the educational establishments are providing something worth what they're charging. (note: my entire college career cost less than 1 year at my local day school)

There is a terrible lack of transparency, and SL, you're correct: Kollelim have won. Now, personally, I don't think that a community should pay for a kollel until every child is supported in day school, but apparently my priorities are not those of the people running the schools.

Charlie Hall said...

There is no full time kollel in my neighborhood and it seems to be doing fine. We learn before work, after work, nights, weekends -- but we work. (Women, too.) There are two traditional boys yeshivot, and a co-ed modern orthodox day school has a generous scholarship fund courtesy of the wealthy members of our community (including one billionaire).

I will repeat part of the post I made to the Yeshiva World blog:

"According to Dr. Marvin Schick, there are approximately 200,000 children in day schools or yeshivas in the United States. Assuming about a $10,000 cost per child on average (some schools cost less, some a lot more), that is two billion dollars a year. At a 5% spinoff, that would require a 40 billion dollar endowment — and that is assuming only current levels of enrollment. If our own kids stay on the derech and don’t make aliyah we will need substantially more resources. To appreciate the magnitude of the problem we hae here, Yeshiva University has an endowment of only a bit over one billion dollars after a century of fundraising; their largest donors in the past have generally been non-frum Jews."

Ezzie said...

Oh man. The first thing I'd do is hire a few good accountants and people who understand education and economics. Then I'd build a new school, like Ahavah said.

I'd also give a bit to schools I was in that I know use their money wisely: The Hebrew Academy of Cleveland and to some extent WITS in Milwaukee.

another jewish accountant said...

we give additional tzedaka to our local day school on top of the full tuition of $30k. admittedly what we give on top of that isnt much in the grand scheme of things, we feel that chinuch is the most important priority for our tzedaka dollars, and feel that those dollars should go to the school we have entrusted the education of our children to. most schools need to use fundraising $$ to close the annual operating budget, not to build an endowment, which is short-sighted, and an unfortunate financial predicament.

why do the above posters think that if they start a new school that is the only way to get things done...participate in your local school, volunteer whatever time you can, and get involved. that has such a tremendous impact, and perhaps will get your voice heard. dont just call the office complaining when there is an issue, be a part of the solution, and do whatever you can to be involved in the school community. an added benefit to that is how excited your kids will be to see you at school every once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Ezzie--can you comment more on the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland? We are considering a move to Cleveland, and I don't know much about the schools there. I'd like to hear more explaining your comment.

twinsmommy said...

anon-- I was going to ask Ezzie the same thing. We currently live in Cleveland and plan to raise our family here but our kids are not yet school age (they're 10 months old). So I don't yet know WHY HAC is better than other schools--- just that it IS. Obviously before we send our kids there we'll be doing research but it's just not yet time. Right now I'm just collecting diaper coupons rather than worrying (YET) about tuition. :)

ps, anon, if you want to ask any questions about Cleveland, feel free to email me--- we love it here. heatherandadam at

SephardiLady said...

I've tried to post at Yeshiva World and it never seems to take my comments. I wrote this and hope to see if it appears sometime:

A frum family tried to deduct tuition in the 1990's. They claimed the right to itemize on a small loophole used by the Scientologists for a religious class. The IRS turned down the deduction and once again defeated the family on appeal. The law simply does not allow for itemization and it is simply a pipe dream. While vouchers would be wonderful, they too are simply a dream.

We simply cannot afford to sit around and dream that a miracle is going to happen to get us out of these straights. Quite frankly, I'm not sure that there is a way out of this problem in its entirety, especially if we think we can continue to try to support everything. But I'd like to think there is a way to alleviate the problems.

I would suggest that the system we have in place is flawed precisely because there is no system, just a loose network of schools. The public school system is by no means efficient. But, it shares resources and in the frum system each school is on its own. The Catholic Schools which are known to be more efficient are connected into districts, aka archdiocese, and they will not keep open schools that do not have the population. I can think of frum schools that could literally be absorbed into entire other schools.

I don't think this is us vs them issue. We are all in this boat together and when a boat sinks, few escape.

Mike S. said...

I have often wondeed about the cost numbers provided. A rule of thumb is that the total cost for alabor intesive service like a school is that the cost should be about 2-3 times the salary of the worker. The difference covers a (generous) benfit package, the building, utilities, supplies, and the support staff (in a school the secretaries, administrators, janitors, etc.). With 20 kids in a class and assuming the teacher makes $60K that would be a cost of $6-9K/kid. The schools I am familiar with quote a cost (not necessarily tuition) of $20K or so per pupil. The schools I know don't seem unreaspnably inefficient either. Perhaps someone can explain.

Tamiri said...

I would not give millions to the schools, and you know why? Because they generally no longer match my hashkafa. Up until the late 70's (maybe beyond) there were Zionistic Hebrew Day Schools where the word ISRAEL was holy, Hebrew was taught as a relevant language and religious thought was encouraged. Aliya was promoted.
Today, I see religious studies being taught by seminary girls, men in suits and everything in between, but not much more. The Orth Jews in the U.S. have moved totally to the right, regaining the galus mentality that some of us lost and I don't like that.
Not one bit.
I can't support something I am totally against.

twinsmommy said...

Mike S, I just choked.. $60 K? My husband has a M.A.Ed and a decade of experience and he makes $45 which is more than anyone else in his school. AND it's not even a frum school--- frum schools pay LESS!

miriamp said...

Yes, and who said anything about 20 kids in a class? My kids' classes are 9 - 15, and they have to go co-ed to even have that many!

That said, if I had millions to give, first I would set up a fund to fully cover tuition for my own kids all the way through Seminary/Yeshiva Gedolah/College (as appropriate). Then if there was any left (I do have a whole bunch of kids, after all!) I would definitely give a lot to our local school. (Providence Hebrew Day.) For all that it's fully co-ed through 3rd grade, partially for 4 and 5 and then separated for 6 and up, it's a very yeshivish out-of-town Day school, that manages to nicely balance Lemudei Kodesh and Chol (even to alternating which grades have which in the morning and which in the afternoon to make better use of teachers.) As one Past Dinner Honoree said in his speech, "Providence gets it right." When we were looking to move here, the Dean told me proudly that kids coming out of his school are accepted at both prestigious colleges and prestigious Yeshivas. And don't need catch-up work for either.

And they do get a lot of our tzedakah dollars already. Unfortunately, that doesn't come near to amounting to millions, lol.

Mike S. said...

Twinsmommy: I was trying to estimate high to make a point.

Miriamp: Perhaps if there are not enough students for 1 class per grade, they could have one class per two grades? (Or providence and Sharon can split the commute and open a school in Attleboro or Pawtucket :) )

SephardiLady said...

Mike S.--This is the type of creative thinking I would hope to see from those invited to write articles for major Jewish publications.

I know public schools with mixed classes. In really rural areas, there used to be "one room" schoolhouses. Montessori schools, by design, include children from various grades. I know schools with very small classes. Perhaps a curriculum that includes more facilitated learning, as opposed to lecturing, would allow classes to be combined.

Staff is the biggest expense of Jewish schools. I think any "solution" would have to involve looking at how to best utilize staff.

Jewish Blogmeister said...

Excellent post! You are absolutely correct in that yeshivas are some of the worst offenders at spending funds in inappropriate ways. Keep up the good work.

miriamp said...

(Or providence and Sharon can split the commute and open a school in Attleboro or Pawtucket)

Actually, we already have a ton of Sharon kids coming here! And they do combine 4th and 5th grades for the classes that are separate: "specials" like gym, computers, art, davening (so that they can sing), Mishnayos for the boys (although girls are given the option of choosing this elective, none have this year) and Tefilah for the girls. (Possibly middle school and high school too, but my oldest is in 5th, so that's what I know.)

I wasn't complaining about the small class size, just pointing out that out-of-town yeshivos may not "make the numbers" but we still need the schools to stay open and solvent. Personally, I think the school here is doing a great job, and the recent tax credits for corporations in RI funding a scholarship fund has helped them a lot. Hopefully enough that they won't have to touch their endowment fund this year (yes, there is one.)

Charlie Hall said...

"The Catholic Schools which are known to be more efficient are connected into districts, aka archdiocese, and they will not keep open schools that do not have the population."

The savings from this could be huge. Most Jewish schools cost more than the public schools' per pupil cost in NYC, but the Catholic Archdiocese cost is less than half. And this despite the fact that their staff is unionized! This one Archdiocese has almost as many students as the entire enrollment into orthodox Jewish schools in the US.

But a sea change in attitude would be required for this to work. A second boys yeshivah opened in my neighborhood a few years ago. What was wrong with the first one? I'm not sure, but why couldn't the RY of the first yeshivah addressed the objections that caused the second yeshivah to open only less than a mile away. And that is on top of the modern orthodox school, also about a mile away. This crazy duplication of effort will continue as long as parents pay the tuition.

"cost (not necessarily tuition) of $20K or so per pupil. "

That is cheap! There are three independent prep schools in my neighborhood that charge tuition of over $30K. $21K for the modern orthodox day school is viewed as a bargain.

"Zionistic Hebrew Day Schools where the word ISRAEL was holy, Hebrew was taught as a relevant language and religious thought was encouraged. Aliya was promoted."

Move to my neighborhhood. We have a secular Zionist elementary school, a religious Zionist elementary school, and a modern orthodox high school that is avowedly Zionist. How Zionist? I had expected to see pictures of great rabbis when I first visited. But the photographs in the lobby wall were of Herzl, Sharon, and Katsav! The only "negative" is that the community has been losing families to communities in Eretz Yisrael as a result. Indeed the elementary school principal practiced what he had been preaching himself and made aliyah with his family.

"kids coming out of his school are accepted at both prestigious colleges and prestigious Yeshivas"

That is quite impressive! How this this amazing place develop?

miriamp said...

I don't know, since I just got here a few years back, but I'm sure the dean would be ahppy to answer any questions.

School website:

From the home page: "Providence Hebrew Day School is committed to the highest level of scholarship and academic excellence in both Torah and General Studies. Half a century and hundreds of graduates later, we are tremendously proud of what we have achieved. Our graduates have become our young Jewish leaders of tomorrow, excelling in the finest Yeshivos, Seminaries, and Universities."