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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Socialist Tuition System:
Why Even Bother Working and Trying to Improve One's Lot?

Hope the provocative title caught your attention.

I assume the father writing this letter is already receiving some sort of tuition discount or he would not have been called into a meeting by the principal and asked to cough up more money, but I'm not sure about that because the father mentioned "to top it all off, I end up paying more in tuition because I don't get any breaks!." I've said it before and will say it again, the tuition system looks like something invented in the Eastern Bloc. You can't expect people to work and work and work if the only beneficiary is the state. A tuition system that leaves the workers, from low paid to well reimbursed, with little personal reward is sure to eventually crumble under its own weight.

Read the following letter from this week's Yated and leave your comments. I'm just trying to figure out how a private schooling system will manage to survive as is if the administrator sees it fit to hit up the "rich" parent making $61,000.


Dear Editor,

I was called to my son’s cheder to talk about tuition. I was directed to the administrator, who informed me that he would be raising my tuition since, in his words, “You are working in Manhattan and making a nice salary.” (I’m already paying more than most people, as they won’t give me breaks because I’m not learning.)

I tried to explain to him that I am indeed making $61,000 as a computer consultant, but after deducting my work-related expenses, I don’t come out with much more than others. He disagreed with me, and claimed that my salary is a lot higher than what many others earn. And so he decided that I should pay more.

We started discussing the matter and he told me that his salary is $25,000, and that the yeshiva works out his payments so that he is still eligible for government funding. I then explained to him that he makes a lot more than I do. I pay $6,000 in transportation costs a year to get to and from Manhattan, plus another approximately $5,300 for social security, federal and state taxes. (This was a low estimate. I think it’s going to be higher.) I pay another $8,500 for medical insurance. After deducting all these expenses, I am left with $41,200.

He receives approximately $14,500 in HUD, $5,800 in Earned Income Credit, ($4,800 federal + $1,000 state), plus $1,700 in WIC, and $2,100 in HEAP (for utilities). Additionally, his insurance is free (Jersey Care). This leaves him with over $49,000. (This amount is reached even without including other programs, such as free school lunch programs, etc.) This is a lot more than the $41,200 that I make. This calculation also doesn’t include food stamps, because he didn’t volunteer whether or not he receives them. If he does get food stamps, his total income would add up to $56,000. This particular individual is an administrator, but in the event that he was learning full-time and only receiving a kollel check ($4,160) and a night kollel check ($3,000), he would still be making more than $38,000, which is not much less than my $41,200. (This calculation does not include another few thousand dollars possibly earned from morning kollelim, shemiras hasedarim, etc.) To top this all o! ff, I end up paying much more in tuition because I don’t get any breaks.

Add to this the fact that the hours that my wife can work are limited, as she has to carpool the kids and be home with them after playgroup and school hours, since I’m not home until 7 at night. In contrast, this administrator told me that his wife works until later in the afternoon, because he is home between 2 and 4 and takes care of all the carpools and babysitting until his wife returns home from her job.

At the conclusion of this discussion, the administrator told me that he still feels I should pay a higher amount towards tuition since I work.

I am not writing this letter to complain about people being able to manage with the help of government programs. I just want people to understand that just because I work doesn’t mean that I am walking away with more money. In fact, I have the same problems paying tuition as any kollel yungerman may have.

A Yungerman Who Now Works [but probably is wondering why in the world he is busting his rear, even if he is too polite to say so]


Anonymous said...

The tuition system is truly weird. I understand that UTA has some program going that makes parents send the kids to UTA summer camp so they can make more on programs. And here I thought that our chadorim were primary educational institutions and not to be milked.

aml said...

I have nothing to say... he said it all here. Nothing like working 60 hours a week to have every last dime sucked out of you while your neighbors on WIC get a break and get to have dinner with their kids every night.

We're done.

Ezzie said...

Wow, you're right, I love the post. Proves the point from my post with real-life examples... oy.

Ezzie said...

We're done.

...yeah. :(

JLan said...

The first thing in this letter that I noticed:

"I was directed to the administrator, who informed me that he would be raising my tuition"

Time out. Raising HIS tuition?

SL, this goes back to your comments about running a yeshiva like a business. You don't say "we're raising your tuition," rather, you set a standard tuition and then have a committee set up to apply the appropriate discounts, aid, etc. Based on this situation, it sounds like the school in question does not have a standardized tuition, but rather sets a different one based on what each person makes. And it does sound like this guy is getting no tuition discount. It's possible that it's so rare at this school to have a working parent that the administration feels it can pull in the individuals who do.

As a side point: while I have no clue about the budgeting of the letter's author on day to day expenses, this guy is clearly pretty sharp. He knows what he makes, knows his transportation costs, knows his taxes and insurance fees and what he's left with after taxes. That's an excellent start, and being able to name it easily is a good thing.

Zach Kessin said...

I think my response would have been a simple "NO, that is not acceptable" .

I sometimes wonder how the community got to this place, but other days it is obvious.

David said...

We as individuals and as a community need to be willing to say "no" to egregious mistreatment such as this.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I got the impression from the letter that the reason for the increase was not just the greater amount of salary, but that the salary was derived from mundane working. The splitting of the chareidi community into 3 groups, the rich who are give respect for their wealth, the rabbonim/kollelim who are respected for their learning, and the average working people who are despised and exploited will eventually lead to the destruction of the present setup, and probably r"l cost klal yisrael a good many neshamas while it is imploding.

rosie said...

Maybe a bunch of working people should get together and make their own yeshiva. To get your kids in, you must have a job. Of course, not every job is equal in pay and not everyone is a genius and can be a brain surgeon. Basically it comes down to what others have said: charge one tuition and whatever people do to find the money is their choice but the cost is the cost just like any business that does not give breaks due to the job that you have. This guy is basically being told that for the sin of leaving kollel and going to work, he gets to support everyone else. I wonder how long the government will continue to be generous. NY has already run out of unemployment money.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in a small midwestern Jewish community which has two Orthodox elementary schools, a day school and a cheder. A pediatrician friend of ours, who had just completed her residency and joined a group practice, enrolled her children in the cheder for full tuition. The school administrator informed her that he expected her to work shifts at the local children's hospital so she could pay more money to the school. The next year she switched her children to the day school.

The main financial problem this cheder faced is that over one-third of the students paid no tuition at all, because their parents were teachers/ staff members in the school or members of the community kollel. School staff salaries and Kollel stipends were not small and were not taxed either.

Despite this cautionary tale, several years later, when our children were old enough to attend school, my husband and I chose to send our children to this cheder. We truly (and naively) believed this school was better for our children. I worked full-time; my salary covered full tuition for my two school-aged children and day care for my younger ones, plus about $100 per month. Because my husband was in the middle of his training, with years to go, his salary was relatively small and his hours long (computed on an hourly basis, he earned less than minimumn wage). His long hours meant that he could not work another job, nor could he care for the children while I worked additional hours.

Unlike school staff members/ kollel members, we could not afford vacations or housecleaning help and bought our children's clothes used (luckily I didn't need new clothes myself). Also, many of the other mothers in the school criticized me because I worked outside the home and was not a teacher. Still we were happy that we could support our growing family k"ah and even pay full tuition for our children.

One winter, while I was pregnant, I lost my job and could not find another. We approached the school administrator to discuss reducing the tuition we paid. He told us that if we had sufficient mesiras nefesh, we would find a way to pay full tuition regardless. We explained that even though my husband earned about the same as school staff/ kollel members, his long hours meant that he could not take on extra work as they did. We even showed him our expenses and asked him which items he thought were unnecessary. He would not do so, and just told us that he frequently spoke to [x Rov] in [y large Jewish community], and that this Rov told him that parents paying full tuition in large Jewish community would not get a break due to job loss.

Of course a few months later I spoke to a friend who served on the tuition committee of a large boys' Yeshiva in this large Jewish community. He told me that what the administrator had told us wasn't true.

Ezzie said...

Rosie - I'm betting that at some point that's exactly what will happen, though less explicitly.

JLan said...

It should be noted that while the "very modern" schools give their teachers some tuition breaks, I'm not aware of any (at least, in the NY area) that give complete remission.

Anonymous said...

Leaving tuition out of the equation the letter writer has a very good point about how viable it is to learn in Kollel and be financially secure thanks to the government.I for one feel like a real fool for not having done so.I lostout both in this world and the next for the sake of what?To pay estate lawyers to transfer my money off my name (and still retain control)so I can qualify for Medicare/Medicaid to afford a nursing home?

Dave said...

Bluntly, working parents who are subsidizing this system have themselves to blame at this point.

If you are being taken advantage of, and you choose to stay in the situation, that is your fault.

This isn't to remove the blame from the people running the schools, but anyone supporting these schools is making the problem possible.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree more. I finally had enough. I am telling my kids to finish high school after 11th grade and take the GED. Modern Orthodox high schools are charging nearly $30,000 per year!

Thinking said...

A couple of questions come to mind:

1) Why are his children in a school that is run by an administrator like that? Part of a decision as to where to send children to school must be based on "who is running the school?". Decisions of where to send my own children have always been based on the reputation and personal meetings with whoever is in charge. Friends of mine just recently chose one school over another based on a meeting with an administrator they were extremely unimpressed with. You must believe that if the running of the school is so arbitrary then there is a good chance the chinuch is too.

2)I have been working in Manhattan for many years now and have yet to meet someone who had no choice but to spend $500 per month to get there. I know many people that drive and park in the city, but that is because they can afford it. It should not cost so much to commute.

3)Unless the school is going to base everyone's tuition based on income as opposed to a set rate, halachically this is probably assur. There must be a standard rate.

Bottom line, you can't change the school, change schools!

Elitzur said...

Actually, you're not correct about the cost of commute. There is no train straight from Lakewood to NYC(where it's clear that this guy is from). If he leaves from teh largest nearby station (Long Branch) a monthly pass is $340 (you can look it up). Then there are additional fees for parking in Long Branch (and gas or getting there some other way which I don't think exists) and possibly an additional subway (two directions) to wherever he is going in Manhattan. So, it seems that $500 is eminently reasonable. A better idea is for him to leave Lakewood altogether...

SephardiLady said...

I'm sure that if the letter writer is from Lakewood, like you are guessing he is, and puts up with this treatment any longer, he will want to flee.

But, moving closer to work could easily end up costing him more. I believe Lakewood tuitions are still super low, even if the administrator wants to access him even more for making a few bucks.

It is hard to go anywhere in this economy if you have a newer mortgage. Sometimes it is worth taking the hit, but sometimes it is better to wait it out. Of course, if your home value is less than your mortgage, the bank has to agree to take the hit on a short sell, and my sources tell me the Lakewood home makret is flooded by foreclosures.

Tamiri said...

Anonymous said...
Can't agree more. I finally had enough. I am telling my kids to finish high school after 11th grade and take the GED. Modern Orthodox high schools are charging nearly $30,000 per year!

We actually looked into that about 6 years ago. We called Rutgers and asked how they would view a Day School non graduate with a GED. Their response: not favorabley.
OTOH, we have a son who did a GED here in Israel and that, along with a nice psychometric (University entrance) exam sailed him right into Bar Ilan at the age of 17.
Do your homework about how colleges in the U.S. regard your "type" of child with a GED, if that is where your kids are headed

Anonymous said...

what kind of a legal or ethical system allows an administrator to earn 25k a year since the govt will pick up the tab? [and i wonder if all he really get is 25k and no perks.]
changing schools is far from easy since kids have friends, etc.
i dont know how exactly you can say 'no' to the administrator if he essentially holds your kid hostage. schools can and do take out non-payment of tuition on kids.

JLan said...

"changing schools is far from easy since kids have friends, etc.
i dont know how exactly you can say 'no' to the administrator if he essentially holds your kid hostage. schools can and do take out non-payment of tuition on kids."

You tell them to suck it up and deal with it. If military parents can move every few years, you can certainly transfer your kids to another school, where your kids probably know someone anyways.

Anonymous said...

We actually looked into that about 6 years ago. We called Rutgers and asked how they would view a Day School non graduate with a GED. Their response: not favorably.

However, if they also come with a 1400+ SAT (I don't know what that translated into today's SAT, but that was out of 1600 maximum) they will probably look at that student a lot more favorably. Another choice is to attend one year at a lesser rated college, get perfect grades, and then transfer to Rutgers for the remainder of college.

Each of my sisters dropped out of high school after 11'th grade and went to college instead.


Anonymous said...

I own a business and the schools think that I print money. I am the woman who was paying over $140,000 per year in tuition. It is no down to $120,000 but that is on a reduced income of $220,000. I have had to sell assets to cover tuition and have finally had enough. My tuition bill will come ... down to $90,000 and I will still not be going on vacation or sending my kids to camp for the summer. The administrators of the schools have said that we are doing well and should be able to come up with their reasonable tuitions and unless the other schools reduce tuition they will not reduce mine. As I write this I think $90,000 is excessive and will not pay more than $10,000 per child.
I can't send my kids to cheaper schools because of special educational needs.

Scraps said...

Instead of dropping out, why not apply early admissions? Then you don't have the same stigma.

Ezzie said...

Out of curiousity, why aren't taxes included in the working man's calculations? Either he's even worse off, or the 61k is net of taxes, correct?

SephardiLady said...

Read again, Ezzie. Paragraph 3 he mentions social security, federal, and state taxes as a deduction from income, after he mentions transportation costs.

Ezzie said...

Got it. But that number doesn't make much sense... $5,300 combined on $61k of income? Unless he has a ton of kids, and the other expenses are coming out pretax?

SephardiLady said...

Ezzie-The numbers work for me. I will try to email you later with a PDF from my tax software.

Fact Checker said...

The letter writer is *not* from Lakewood:

1. There are no tuition breaks nor flexible rates for tuition at any of the Lakewood schools. There is set rate for kollel yungerleit and another rate (about $1k/yr more) for non-kollel families. Beyond that, everyone pays the same tuition.

2. There are numerous buses directly from Lakewood to Manhattan which are subsidized by the community, bringing the commuting cost down to less than half of the $$ quoted. (Some of the buses have a minyan for shacharis, one is essentially a moving morning kollel.)

Anonymous said...

There are no tuition breaks nor flexible rates for tuition at any of the Lakewood schools. There is set rate for kollel yungerleit and another rate (about $1k/yr more) for non-kollel families. Beyond that, everyone pays the same tuition.

That's what they want you to believe and it is the general rule, but there are many exceptions made to that rule. Many, many exceptions. It is very rare that they kick a student out due to nonpayment of tuition.

Talking about tuition, my parents know a family whose grandfather gave a very large donation to a particular school many years ago to help build their building. He only attached one condition to his gift - that his children and grandchildren be permitted to attend that school free of tuition. We joke (and only a joke because he was, and still is I think, a very big baal tzedaka) around that, with all the increases in tuition over the years, it turns out to have been an excellent investment. He has 4 children and 14 grandchildren so far that have attended that yeshiva!


Ezzie said...

SL - Thanks!

qsman said...

It's been a while since I posted here....

I *don't* like the school's attitude, and I'm *not* condoning the administrator's stupidity in lording over his govn't dole benefits, but we don't have a complete picture.

What's not disclosed here is how many kids he has in school, how much full tuition is in this place, nor how much he was raised. If all the conversation was about was "Pay more" but no figures were discussed, I'd wait for the school to remember to send an invoice and then wage the war. Nor do we know how much he's paying now. Even ballpark figures would help here. In addition, he's estimating. Here's where a Quicken printout of cold hard facts would help him out.

G said...

"I lostout both in this world and the next for the sake of what?"

doing what you think is right and being able to look at yourself in the mirror

G said...

Not very highly valued commodities these days, I admit, but commodities nonetheless

Anonymous said...

I recently was downsized and am starting a new job (I"YH) next week also doing computer consulting. My base salary (and I have about 10 years of experience) will be about 15k lower than my brother in law's base salary in chinuch, and I won't be getting parsonage, summers off, Yom Tov off with pay+ extra vacation, etc. Given market conditions, I am just happy to have a job.
My son's former elementary school boasted in a newspaper column that their rebbeim all all paid decently -- over 70k. In the school my BIL teaches in there are Rebbeim pulling in over 100k.
I have heard many speeches over the years about the mesirus nefesh of those learning in kollel and in chinuch. I have no doubt this is true of many. But it is absurd for schools to have built-in different rates for "klei kodesh" workers than for others, ignoring economic reality. There is real financial mesirus nefesh going on for many parents to provide a Torah education for their children.

Carol said...
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