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Monday, December 08, 2008

Lakewood Teachers Walk

. . . and a part of me wants to say "it's about time."

An anonymous commentor alerted me to a Jewish news story at Matzav.com. Lakewood girls' school Bais Faiga Elementary School is closed today and will continue to be closed, no doubt leaving parents up a creek trying to find arrangements for their daughters. Teachers, fed up with non-payment, sent home a note on Friday stating that they that they haven't been paid and they won't be teaching until the situation is resolved. A commentor thought sending the letter home with the students was tacky. I'm sure that there is much more to the story than meets the eye. So I will leave it up to my readers to comment on the level of tackiness. I imagine the situation is more one of desperation.

Approximately one and a half years ago I wrote a post entitled "It's Time to Walk: Alternatively a Job is NOT a Chessed" where I discussed non-payment of wages, the idea that employment is "at will," and that at a certain point it makes sense to pack your bag and find something different. One wonders how different schools would look if 1) administrators knew teachers will not accept working without pay, and 2) parents knew that if that if they or others didn't pay up tuition obligations timely as per their contracts, that they might be left without an operating school.

I see no reason why the teachers should stick around in an intolerable situation. Non-payment and late payment has been going on for a very long time now. I'm just wondering what took so long for a group of teachers to stage a walk out?

Comment away.

46 comments:

anonymousmom said...

Culture, culture, culture. Yeesh. Could we divide up our emphases? We can't tackle Jewish Education as an economic challenge by taking on all of Jewish Education. Why don't we emphasize the subsets of our community that will actually respond to sound financial advice and which are facing the highest tuition increases?

Anonymous said...

Just my guess, since I have no connection to Lakewook, but it's possible there are too many teachers in Lakewood and there aren't other job opportunities for these teachers. If they walk off, they may not be welcome back at any time. I know that there are many teachers from Lakewood commuting 60-75 miles EACH WAY to jobs in other communities.

Anonymous said...

if the children go to public school for their secular education and a talmud torah after school for their religious education, a family can save tens of thousands, and the children can get a quality education.

aml said...

anon... Where is this great afterschool Talmud Torah? Because DH and I are game. As for these teachers, good for them. And no, it isn't tacky to send a note home. How else would they communicate? Can I assume most families don't use email. There was a (false) roumor going around town here that our teachers weren't getting paid. I went straight to the teachers immediately and found it wasn't true (thankfully). This is just unacceptable, but I can understand what took so long... It's a frightening propostition and you have to be courageous enough to do it- and have the confidence to know your colleagues will do it to... Good for them!

SephardiLady said...

Anon 5:04PM: I too have no Lakewood connection. But the story is interesting, so I posted it.

You are probably right that the teachers have few other options and are "hostage." So it definitely took a lot of bravery. I will be interested in hearing about the aftermath. Hopefully, readers will alert as one did with this story.

SuperRaizy said...

Good for them! Yeshiva teachers (especially females) are usually underpaid and overworked. They depend on their small salaries to help feed their families. If they're not getting paid, why should they continue to work?
BTW- Does anyone know if the school administrators have been receiving their salaries while the teachers haven't?

R said...

This is really upsetting. I too have held positions where I was not compensated in a timely fashion, and upon discussing it with my boss was treated as if I were crazy...how dare I question? Obviously we are all sacrificing! But the issue is, in a business setting such as a school, it is not a place for teachers to be sacrificing...How unfair.

Commenter Abbi said...

How sad that sending a note home to parents about an imminent strike is tackier than not paying teachers. :(

tdr said...

I'm just wondering.... why are teachers not paid in this context? No money in the school's coffers? Or is there some other reason? Are the utility bills also not paid? Is the school choosing between paying teachers/closing down and not-paying/staying open? Teacher pay not being made a priority when things are tight due to underlying assumptions that the school can get away with it? Don't jump down my throat anyone -- I'm trying to understand how things get to such a state of affairs.

anonymousmom said...

Most right wing schools do not pay on time. It is considered a "plus" if they do. Why? I always gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they couldn't cover their bills. Remember, they have many multi-sibling families getting tuition cuts, many more on tuition assistance, many less wealthy parents to support the system. That said, it happens too often and in too many places so more questions need to be asked. Also, as the commenter mentioned above, it is almost impossible for a girl to get a teaching job in Lakewood. The supply of young girls fresh out of seminary is huge and a continuous flow. Most Chareidi girls go into teaching. Second in line are the other helpin professions where they will pursue an online or quickie degree from a "frum program." If someone doesn't want to work for no pay, someone else will in a heartbeat. Eventually, they do throw these girls a bone and give them some money. Married first, of course. My cousin works in a Lakewood school and does get paid (late of course, but quicker than her single counterparts). Of course, those of us in other frum communities would not stand for this, but this is the culture. The question is how much money does each school really have? They do need to get more transparent. That won't happen in Chareidi schools. They are more mafia-oriented than others. You do have to give them credit for allowing many to attend for little or no tuition. A family with 8 kids (average in Lakewood) could have 4 or 5 girls in Bais Faiga at the same time. They are going to be getting a break because Tati is likely to be learning, a Rebbe, or some other low-paying job. Lakewood has some high-rollers, but by nature it is not a "wealthy Frum neighborhood."

Anonymous said...

If a school can have a free work force of girls who want to teach so that they can be in a good position to attract a shidduch, they can have an entire staff of 19yr old first year teachers. They can even stipulate, as some schools have been known to do, that they can't begin dating until after the first of the year, so that they don't get married until the year is over. The chinuch of the community should be provided by that captive work force of unmarried girls. What a great way for a day school to save money!

Esther said...

I saw a very interesting comment yesterday, I think it was on your previous post but not sure... Someone said that what we think of as "community organizations" (schools, etc.) are actaully private, usually family-owned businesses. Which means they aren't being run with "the best interest of the community" in mind, but however the person in charge feels they will make their own parnassah (and also varying with whether or not the person is truly a Torah observent, G-d fearing person, or just wears the clothes.)

In our case, it was the latter, and the rabbinic family that owned the school truly didn't care whether any of the teachers they weren't paying needed the money. One of the rabbi brothers stood there complaining that his palm pilot was broken, while we were telling him that if he didn't pay my husband months of overdue salary we would have serious financial consequences. In other cases, the owner of the school isn't neccesarily bad-intentioned, but doesn't know how to run a business.

I think the situation is allowed to continue by the truly Torah-observant population because they are trying to observe halacha such as judging favorably, and also because they are in the mindset that the schools are "community organizations." It's like another comment, on your homeschool post, saying that we have to keep attending the local yeshiva schools even if it bankrupts us personally, because not doing so would hurt the school. Or I've heard people say they have to shop at the kosher stores even if the prices are inflated and the food is spoiled, because "we hjave to support the community." Every frum person is part of the community - you have to support yourself as well.

Elitzur said...

Most schools in Lakewood (though I do not know about this one) do not give ANY tuition breaks but instead charge a very low tuition. They then send out m'shulachim to all the nearby communities talking about the wonderful community they have and how we should support them.

Many years ago R' Soloveitchik (as quoted by R' Rakeffet) said that the other yeshivos should not be checking YU's tzitzis (an expression meaning to see how frum they are) until they stop violating the biblical law of paying wages on time.

I can't wait till the roshei yeshiva get involved this will be an interesting story...

SephardiLady said...

I am under the same impression that Elitzur is. I have been told tuition is $4000 per student, no breaks. Of course, charging tuition and COLLECTING tuition are two separate things.

David said...

$4000 per student sounds like a dream. In my neck of the woods, there's an additional digit there, even for kindergarden.

Anonymous said...

to aml, December 08, 2008 5:27 PM

my children went to a talmud torah that was affiliated with my shul. i have 5 children, all grown, all educated in secular subjects and religious matters. they can all daven and participate in shul. many shuls and rabbis don't want to support schools of this type because it takes away money and students from the yeshivas and day schools.

rosie said...

This blog is at this point, over 100 comments behind vosizneias. Many of the comments were anti-kollel. My favorite was:
The world stands on 3 things:
Torah- the husband sits in Kollel
Avodah- wife works and raises the kinderlach
Gemillas Chassidim- the parents support them.

Lion of Zion said...

i'm not a big fan of satmar, but i have to give them credit where due. i worked one year in their elementary school in boro park. not once was i ever paid on any day other than payday.

ANON:

"my children went to a talmud torah"

american jews do not have a good history when it comes to the talmud torah system. historically your kids are among a tiny minority.

Knitter of shiny things said...

I started reading those comments on Vos is Neias, though I had to stop around 71. It was like a horrible car-wreck that you can't help but stare at...

I really hope the people who said things along the lines of "they should be doing it for avodat Hashem and not care about the lack of pay" are just trolls who are trying to stir up conflict, and not people who actually think that way. Except that they probably are real people who do think that way. At least other people replied sensibly and said that the teachers have bills to pay, and that it's assur not to pay your workers.

Also, the spelling and grammar in many of the comments made me want to cry.

Anonymous said...

OK, can I just say three things about a yeshiva not paying their employees on time?

It's Ossur
It's Ossur
It's Ossur

And this isn't some rabbinic add-on from the 18th century. This isn't even an interpretation. This is something stated B'Feirush in the Chumash.

It's OSSUR!!!!!

What the hell is wrong with these yeshivos?

JS said...

I would appreciate it if someone with experience or background in the talmud torah institution could maybe guest post or write more about it.

I don't know much about them, but every time someone brings it up it's immediately shouted down as "we tried that and it didn't work." When was it last tried? Who tried it? What were the circumstances at the time? Did it fail? If so, why? Are the circumstance the same or different now?

anonymousmom said...

It's not the Talmud Torah angle; it's the environment in the other 7 to 8 hours of the day. Bottom line, a lot of people pooh pooh the elementary school years. The social component of a traditional school setting is just as important as the academics. There are many wonderful students from great families in our public schools, but--in most communities--the majority of them are not Jewish and the majority of the Jewish students are not Torah-observant so on a regular basis your child and you will have to navigate those challenges. We do choose to raise our kids as Sabbath and Kashruth observant. It "gets in the way" sometimes. Why put roadblocks on their path to social happiness and security? And, I am not even talking about pre-puberty and puberty years which begin in 5th and 6th grades. I have taught that age. Social concerns begin at that time, even for the boys.

ProfK said...

There's one angle that no one has mentioned, so if I may...The state of New Jersey has a minimum number of required days of attendance in a school year calendar. Yeshivas, as are other private schools, are required to meet those required days. If Lakewood leaves this strike to go on they are going to be in violation of the state requirement.

They could find themselves in state court having to explain that they couldn't meet the required days because there was a teacher's strike. The reasonable question that would follow from the court would be "Why did the teachers strike?" And the answer "We didn't pay them so they walked out" is so not going to work in Trenton.

Perhaps someone should tell the machers in Lakewood that if they don't get their acts together they are going to come under stricter state supervision. I wonder which they would find worse: having to pay the teachers or having to finally meet the state requirements for what constitutes an education?

Elitzur said...

ProfK - you're not from NJ. I'm currently looking at different schools for one of my children and one of the schools boasted that it is the only one in the area that acutally keeps to the 180 school day requirement. In addition, Trenton is a nest of corruption. I am sure the politics of the situation will be worked out so as not to have any problems...
As always in that neck of the woods, the only ones in trouble will be the average-Joe parents who (besides tuition) are now spending money to send their kids roller skating (acc. to the latest update) instead of school...

tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I am familiar with the situation at Bais Faiga, and wish to comment. It has something to do with the boys and girls schools being one entity, with the income from the girls school largely subsidizing the wages of the male staff in the Cheder, who are paid more than double that of the women. If the school were to split, as is proposed, the boys' school would lack the funds to continue this gender biased payment system. Due to the inner conflict, the female staff, as well as the cheder, have recieved irratic payments since the start of the year, with various unfulfilled promised, like you'll get your cheque next week, etc, and then it doesn't come, or it bounces....

Anonymous said...

I don't think the discussion of public school really gets a hearing because there are still enough failures from those who try that system to make it obvious it won't work for the majority or minority.

I have done the talmud torah thing for kids who attend public schools after leaving yeshiva. Public school impacts their conduct, attitudes and life decisions. Most become minimally observant. There is too much pressure not to. In today's culture I would not be surprised if their children intermarry. Convincing them to do any Torah learning while they are pressured with AP's is a struggle. Entertaining lessons and relevancy don't hold a candle to SAT prep classes. Without learning and a structured social environment, the kids don't value Torah and Mitzvos.

I have taught kids who have gone from public school to yeshiva. Their conduct, attitudes and life decisions make a 180 after about a year. They still go to College and value secular education. The difference is they go to a college that has some observant campus life rather than the trendy liberal arts place out in Ohio like their Orthodox friends who stay in public school. Many distance themselves from their old friends because they become sensitized to how perverse, superficial and cruel the post-Modern culture that is 2008 public school life.

Sending children to public school, especially to suburban, upper middle class public schools, is setting your kid up to leave observant life. There are just too many challenges for a person who is impressionable and not in a position to negotiate accomodations and respect.

tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymousmom said...

Anonymous has stated more clearly than I ever could the major concerns about public school life. The stats aren't with you, tesyaa, and I don't think--in most circumstances--it is worth the risk. Special needs issues are a different ball game. I will add another concern that I have mentioned before. Ask any teacher what it means to teach the last period of the day and you will understand how much of an additional stumbling block you are placing in the way of a successful Jewish education when you send a child to Hebrew school. The time of day is just the worst possible for these kids to be learning anything let alone the tenets of their faith. It isn't educationally or morally sound to relegate it to two hours at the end of a long day twice a week and then a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. But, really, just reread Anonymous. That post nails it.

tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yeshivos are not and should not be perfect. They are institutions comprised of human beings and staffed by human beings. Nothing in this world is perfect and all decisions, even the right ones, have negative consequences.

We all recognize the sacrifices we make by choosing to educate our children in yeshivos. The least of our sacrifices is the financial burden of tuition. We sacrifice the economy of scale and services we would have by being part of the broader society. We sacrifice the quality of education because two curricula need to fit in the space of one and public school teachers are better trained and have continuous professional development. We sacrifice emotional health because our children don't have time for the creative outlets like band, play and sports that their peers have. And we sacrifice our children's future earning power because they won't have the network their peers will have.

But what we are not sacrificing is the continuity of the Jewish community. Without a significant Torah education, Judaism is lost. Judaism is dependent on all generations understandings its rationale and implementation. This requires a commitment to learning on a scale not possible for a few hours a week. Judaism is also not an academic subject that can be learned in a few hours. It is a way of life that requires an immersive environment to experientially learn all facets of its implementation.

Finally, Judaism demands a high degree of knowledge to achieve proper worship. A child who does not receive this training will always be handicapped in his service of G-d and his ability to play a role in the Jewish community.

I think we can all agree that there are times when a Torah education must be sacrificed to provide for the basic needs of a child. However, we must appreciate the loss associated with that decision as well.

For these reasons, in addition to the dangers of the public school environment, our communities have made this non-negotiable. Breaching this communal stance and making public schools an option will mean the loss of many children to our community.

JLan said...

"We sacrifice the quality of education because two curricula need to fit in the space of one and public school teachers are better trained and have continuous professional development. We sacrifice emotional health because our children don't have time for the creative outlets like band, play and sports that their peers have. And we sacrifice our children's future earning power because they won't have the network their peers will have. "

This is an exceptionally silly set of comments. There are plenty of MO schools with well trained, certified teachers. There are plenty of schools with good curricula in both general studies and limudei kodesh. There are plenty of schools with extracurriculars (albeit no 5 day a week sports practice), and plenty with decent networking. The difference? The parents are expected to pay more, and even if the kids are on scholarship, to be able to pay something, because if they're not independently wealthy, then they're out earning a salary. And the schools have full time teachers, not subs, and require degrees from their teachers, not high school diplomas, and the teachers are paid on time and in full.

It can be done, in right wing schools as much as in MO schools. But it requires a fundamental change in thought, including an understanding that permanent kollel is for the truly brilliant and the independently wealthy, while earning parnassah and learning when there is time is for everyone else.

Shoshana said...

Homeschool! :)

Gotta love it!

Anonymous said...

Finally, Judaism demands a high degree of knowledge to achieve proper worship. A child who does not receive this training will always be handicapped in his service of G-d and his ability to play a role in the Jewish community

that is an incredibly elitist attitude. how would you know whether or not children from other types of schools receive the optimal training you talk about? not everyone's career path is to be a rebbe or a perpetual student depending on wife, parents and the greater community for money while they only study. you can't earn enough to put multiple children in private school and still have money left over for rent or mortgage and food if you have a large family. if things get tough enough, other choices become viable options.

anonymousmom said...

Public school shouldn't be one of those options. Homeschooling (and you know I'm not a big fan as a rule) should trump public school. Shifting focus on donations, more emphasis on our schools as opposed to the "tzedaka of the day" and--yes--I know the big donors are hurting, but we were beginning the conversation of shifting focus on donations before the horrible economic downturn. Let's at least entertain the thought that some of the money people will pony up a bit more for the day schools than they did before (I'm talking MO here).

Anonymous said...

I'd guess many of the vehement opponents of public school who are posting here went to public school themselves and feel handicapped by not having gone to yeshiva

Anonymous said...

I'd guess many of the vehement opponents of public school who are posting here went to public school themselves and feel handicapped by not having gone to yeshiva

then it's a pity that they are not comfortable in their own skin and need to show such arrogance towards others

Ariella said...

I want to respond to what Anonymous 8:59 wrote: 'If a school can have a free work force of girls who want to teach so that they can be in a good position to attract a shidduch, they can have an entire staff of 19yr old first year teachers. They can even stipulate, as some schools have been known to do, that they can't begin dating until after the first of the year, so that they don't get married until the year is over. The chinuch of the community should be provided by that captive work force of unmarried girls. What a great way for a day school to save money!"
That was really the situation for many girls ten plus years ago. when the only acceptable thing for a single BY girls to do was teach. I taught this type of a girl in a summer Touro course. Many worked in schools that paid as little as $5000 for the year and not on time. But the girls were "captives" of their own shidduch systems. One kallah in the class wrote about her view that would amount to "baruch shepatrani" -- I am not engaged so I can exit this particular exploitation.
Today many girls get degrees from colleges that they "attend" through their seminaries. I know of programs in NY, Baltimore, and Cleveland, and there may be far more. Many of them go on for PT, ST, OT, or education specialties, though they are not all compelled to spend the year after seminary abroad teaching.

But as to the girls who do opt to teach, many do schedule their weddings for March, April, or May and then leave to reside in the neighborhood of their husband's yeshiva. So the schools are left somewhat in the lurch. Knowing this pattern, I am sure it is factored into the salary. If this young women want to be treated professionally, they should act professionally and delay the wedding a bit so that they could fulfill their contracts. Would anyone consider it acceptable for a rebbe to do what these morahs do -- and leave his job in the middle of the year to get married and move to where his kallah is?

Anonymous said...

Ariella, years ago my kids attended a school that was plagued by teachers starting the year and then scheduling weddings anytime from December through March. When the school implemented a contract for teachers to sign, it really didn't change anything. One teacher volunteered "not" to break her contract--even though the commute from Lakewood to the school would have been 100+ miles! The principal wisely let her out of her contract, realizing that the number of late days and snow days and car trouble days would have been untenable.

Anonymous said...

100+ miles each way was what I meant, if that wasn't clear in the comment above

JS said...

What's with all the deleted comments?

Anonymous said...

I read a few but not all of the comments on this and felt I had to comment. Coming from the perspective of a school administrator, I can tell that in our school, the LAST person to get paid is the administrators. So if the teachers are one paycheck behind, you can guarantee the administrators are two behind, if not more. Believe me, we also have families to support.

Secondly, often the situation arises from the fact that there are simply too many families on (needed) tuition support, and there are difficulties fundraising in many communities where the number of mosdos continues to increase (Baruch H") but the donors are affected by the housing market, financial market, general economic downturn, etc. The situation is an extremely difficult one for most organizations nowadays.

Everyone should get paid on time. Everyone, no exceptions. However the reality of the matter is that sometimes things are difficult and beyond anyone's control. And that, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast, especially in this economy.

anonymousmom said...

Wondering about the deleted comments. Anonymous, I for one have never attended Public School and have no ax to grind. I have been in public schools and am involved in Jewish outreach with programming in public schools so I know a little about what's up in that environment. A colleague of mine at the Yeshiva day school in which I teach with whom I am particularly close is a Public School refugee teacher who opted to send her children to Catholic School (she's Catholic). Her husband has been an administrator of a local public school for many years. Bottom line is that it isn't the firepits of hell and yet--it isn't likely to be an easy path for a religious child. Putting aside religion, some districts are just not a safe bet for any mainstream kid. Why do you put up such a fight and brand the opposite side of the argument with the dismissive "arrogant" description?

anonymousmom said...

BTW, I have had students who have opted for public high school for one reason or another. I was concerned about the choice, but I didn't get hysterical about it like some of the other staff members at the day school. I will tell you that of the ones I have heard from or about, not all are observant anymore. Granted not all were from observant homes to begin with, but I would wonder what would have become of them had they remained in Yeshiva. I don't take away from the wonderful people they may have become and the fact that they may be fine, kind adults, but I am an observant Jew and on this forum when we discuss the tuition crisis, most of us are already making the choice to be observant and to set their children on that path so future observance should be close to the top of our lists and immersion in an observant environment is quite helpful. Remember, these aren't mini-me's/little adults. These are children and adolescents who will not face the same challenges as some readers on here who work as adults in a secular world. Not the same challenge.

Anonymous said...

anonymousmom, yes we're all concerned about Torah observance and the tuition crisis, but I think the point SL keeps making is that the status quo isn't viable, but you seem stuck on the status quo. Let's see--no public school, great dislike for homeschooling, not thrilled about the 4 day week proposal--but you're interested in getting more donors to step up to the plate to support the status quo. Think outside the box: none of the above 3 items is the solution for our community, but the status quo isn't either.