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Thursday, February 19, 2009

That's a Lot of Staff to Layoff

I feel like my blog is on tuition post overload, so I promise a change of pace soon.

Marvin Schick is back to writing a lot about the tuition crisis. While this article is about the possibility that some Modern Orthodox families will crack under the current pressures and withdraw their children from day schools as charter schools and programs like the proposed Hebrew Immersion program in Englewood develop, the note that jumped out at me was this:

Charedi or fervently Orthodox schools invariably live with tight financial shoes, even in the best of times. These institutions are, in the main, relatively generous in providing scholarship assistance to needy families and their tuition base is weak. The sharp economic downturn is making matters a good deal worse. A large girls school in Brooklyn is months behind in payroll and is planning to reduce its faculty by forty. A yeshiva tells me that it is five months behind and another that it is seven months behind and so it goes, without a silver lining to be seen.

What school has 40 employees to lay off? Goodness, my own public high school of 1500 only employees 60 teachers!

While Mr. Schick focuses on the troubles that lie ahead for the Modern Orthodox world (in an earlier article he writes, "greatest damage will occur at non-Orthodox day schools and perhaps also Orthodox schools that serve a modern clientele because a combination of high tuition and lost income and savings will result in the withdrawal of students who will transfer to public school."), I think it should be self-evident that the grass isn't greener on the other side of the hill. At least he doesn't make the call for voucher or government funding realizing that it just won't happen.

What he does suggest are the following:
  • Jewish Education, Inc.-Stop spending money of expensive training programs, trips, conferences, and conventions. The money is better used at the local level.
  • Merger - The least likely approach. Mr. Schick points out that 40% of all yeshivas and day schools enroll fewer than 100 students (and yes, many of them are in large metro areas).
  • Cooperative Activities - If mergers are impossible, sharing resources amongst smaller schools.
  • Annual Dinner - Cut costs around the edges.
  • Trips - Give parents a break and reduce trips.
  • Conventions and Conferences - Schools should not be spending on these trips, especially while their obligations are not being met.
  • PTA - Should consider how to directly assist school officials with their obligations.
  • Attitude-"What is essential is the recognition that there is a crisis, that this is not a time for business as usual. Nor is it the time for denial of reality or its corollary in our religious life that faith is essential and that with faith alone Torah institutions will get by."


JLan said...


That's a fairly low number for a public school of that size, and more to the point, would definitely be low for a Jewish school. If we presume 8 periods per day for the students, and we presume 5 periods per day at 34 students per teacher (ie, NYC's max), you'd need 71 teachers to teach 1500 students.

Of course, that says nothing about the ability to lay off 40 teachers. That's an absolutely massive number no matter how you slice it, and you're right that it's utterly rediculous.

SephardiLady said...

JLan-I looked up the enrollment at my district's website and the teachers at the school's website. Yes, it does seem low. Perhaps there are some unlisted teachers. Classes around 30-35 were totally normal in my day, but there were also mega classes with 100 students, e.g. band and choir which were and still are extremely popular.

Nonetheless, the number 40(!) is huge and points to a major efficiency issue (even if most of the 40 are part time).

Anonymous said...

Employees are not necessarily teachers. There are auxiliary positions and in some cases jobs that are created for a specific person. (The son/daughter of a major donor, the community rebbicin, etc.. )

RaggedyMom said...

Kudos, SL for continuing to bring all of these issues to the fore in such an organized and direct way. It's invaluable to our community.

While I agree that laying off 40 employees is steep, I have to echo JLan - I think it is misleading to compare that 40 to 60 teachers for a school of 1500 (which does sound very low). There may have been 60 teachers in your school, but I'm certain there were many, many more employees, many of whom you interacted with on a daily basis.

School employees, not necessarily teachers, may be anything from teaching assistants, lunchroom staff, office staff, janitorial staff, and the many other supporting employees at a school who aren't classroom teachers. It can be said that faculty only refers to teaching assistants in that group. Still, sometimes schools use the term faculty very loosely.

I worked as a teacher of English as a second language in public school, and those of us who were not classroom teachers were a large group. We included librarians, specialty teachers (gym, art, music, band), counseling staff, therapists and special educators of all kinds, etc. All faculty. Nowadays especially, most schools employ a large number of these supporting staff to meet new mandates and educational and social changes that have occurred.

Back to topic, I send my daughter to the local same-sex community school, which as far as I can tell, has 25 kids in 3 classes in every grade, and 10 grades in the school. They do keep things modest in what seems like most ways. I'm glad that overall, they seem to be doing it right.

SephardiLady said...

My former high school has the following administrative and support staff (looked it up on the website):

Head principal
2 Assistant principals (#2 was added in my day)
Director of Activities
Director of Athletics
Head Couselor
4 Counselors (my day there was one less)
Attendance Clerk
Text Book
Career Center Advisor
Vocational Advisor
16 Total

I can't find information in groundskeepers and janitors. I remember there was a head maintence staff man who closed the gates in the morning and set tardy kids to the office. There must have been at least 4 in this department.

Of course there was also a district office where all the business fuctions were taken care of centrally, which is a big difference.

The teachers include music, performing, and visual arts. These staff are fulltime at the middle school and high school levels. Unfortunately, many public schools have dropped music from the curriculum in the lower levels, but when I was in school the district highers PE teachers and music teachers from the elementary schools and they were shared amongst schools.

SephardiLady said...

Raggedy Mom-In my day there were no teaching assistants at all. The subject of teacher assistants has come up before and few seem to believe that a class could manage without a teaching assistant. There were shared specialists who were shared by the entire district.

Nonetheless, I still don't know how a school can lay off 40 staff of ANY type without a decrease in enrollment or a decrease in academic and/or extracurricular offerings unless there are inefficiences to begin with. The figure is still rather incredible to me.

Thinking said...

In all likelihood the 40 are probably making minimal salaries and were working to be able to get reduced to tuition. If this is the case. While there may be some savings in salary, you can rest assured that these families will continue to be unable to afford to pay any tuition. So, lots of noise, but problem not solved.

In addition, schools and businesses that have decided to forgo any salary increases for this year are making a huge mistake.
A school of 500 students with a cost of $15K per student has a budget of $7.5 million. If salaries make up 75% of the budget then salaries = $5,625,000. An increase of 3% = $168,750. While that is a large number they need to consider the cost of no increase. Will employees work harder? Pick up the slack of laid off employees? Stick around?
Is it worth not finding that extra $170,000? Would it have been better to lay off 2 senior employees and motivate the larger staff?

These solutions being implemented are bandaids. And poor ones at that.

One other point. I agree with cutting any and all discretionary spending. Conferences should be attended virtually at best. Trips should be left up to families. Schools should not ask for extra money this year. Let families decide on there own if they want to give a chanuka present, purim mishloach manos or any other additional expense "generously sponsored by the PTA"???

tesyaa said...

I would add that the large numbers of therapists, "shadows" etc who can be found in yeshivas should not be included in the staff count, since they are either employed privately by parents or paid for by the public school district.

I second Anonymous 8:51. My kids' school has roughly the same student count as 6 years ago, yet now employs an assistant director of administration, a position that didn't exist back then. Of course, she is a rebbetzin...

ProfK said...

I think that Dr. Schick went too far on a few things and not far enough on others. He in particular believes that Torah U'mesorah should cancel their yearly convention as being an expense that schools should not be paying for right now. Who goes and how much does it cost? What is specifically done at the convention that could result in shared ideas for cost cutting? Still some questions to be answered there.

He says that trips should be cut down on--why not cut them out altogether right now?

Re the school dinners, why bother with them at all? Most of the money ends up in the pocket of the caterers and the printers. There are plenty of other alternatives to get the parent body and others together in support of the school.

He talks about physical mergers of schools, and I agree SL that getting diverse schools to merge is a pipe dream. But what about merging together for purposes of supply purchasing? That's one area where yeshivas/day schools are at a disadvantage as compared to the public schools. Their orders are not large enough to get the rock bottom prices.

Where I disagree with him is on the PTA involvement. The PTA of a school consists of parents in that school, who are already supporting the school with tuition/donation money. And the funds raised by a PTA are used to purchase things for the school and for programs for the kids. Tapping PTA is not tapping an outside source for funding--it's all the same parents' pockets.

I agree with Raggedy and Anonymous that it is more than likely that the 40 teachers figure he refers to is not 40 classroom teachers but perhaps 40 support personnel, which can include every person who has anything to do with the school. I was in the Brooklyn girls high school system for many years. Not one of those schools could lay off 40 classroom teachers and still remain open, even if they merged classes to 40 students per classroom.

Dave said...

While that is a large number they need to consider the cost of no increase. Will employees work harder? Pick up the slack of laid off employees? Stick around?

Where are they going to go? Large and profitable companies are announcing salary and hiring freezes, companies in less pleasant situations have been rolling back salaries and laying off staff.

SephardiLady said...

Thinking-I disagree. It is no time to raise salaries when parents are seeing their own salaries slashed or being laid off completely. I believe most employees are simply happy to be keeping their job and The focus of private schools right now is just making it through this recession as a going concern.

If you raise salaries, you raise tuition. If you raise tuition, you raise the potential for attrition.

I simply can't see raising salaries right now.

Thinking said...


The question is will they be open to leaving if an opportunity comes up. The answer is yes. If employees have worked hard and believe that they are not getting at least some kind of increase they are more likely to be open to leaving a company than employees who do feel that their contribution is being recognized.
I know the market is tough, but you get zero productivity out of an employee who will spend the whole year on monster and hotjobs looking for their next job. Is it worth it?


What do you think would provide a better morale boost to employees? Letting 2 senior employees go and providing the other 100 with 3% increases or doing nothing? You don't necessarily have to raise tuition. To not raise salaries, particularly when there is still a lot of "fat" to be cut from our schools will lead to disenfranchised employees who will spend the whole year grumbling about not getting raises and where money is being wasted. It's just not worth the "savings" it is beliebed to be providing.

Dave said...

The question is will they be open to leaving if an opportunity comes up. The answer is yes.

If money is the primary motivator, then they are always open to leaving if an opportunity comes up. And as a general rule in the private sector, if they are hiring, new employers have to pay a premium to lure people out of positions they are in. So nothing has changed here.

What do you think would provide a better morale boost to employees? Letting 2 senior employees go and providing the other 100 with 3% increases or doing nothing?

What is the working environment like? I've worked at places during downturns where staff voluntarily took pay cuts to avoid staff cuts, and I'm far from alone in this.

I know the market is tough, but you get zero productivity out of an employee who will spend the whole year on monster and hotjobs looking for their next job. Is it worth it?

If you are getting zero productivity out of someone, you need to fire them, not wait for them to leave. And anyway, are there really an abundance of jobs on Monster for Jewish day education?

Thinking said...


When you do not provide any salary increase then yes money becomes the hot topic. And without an increase the premium to lure people away from their current jobs has shrunk.

More and more jewish educators are leaving the field specifically because it has become difficult to earn a living. So, yes they are on Monster. In addition, I am not aware of any perfromance evalution process, so jewish educators rarely get fired. They would actually have to do something totally innappropriate to get fired.
This was my personal experience and what that is becoming more prevalent.

Anonymous said...

Thinking -- in this economy which industry or company is giving salary increases? I'd really like to know.

Thinking said...


Some people got 0 and some got 1% and some got 3%. It is based on your performance. If you do not somehow differentiate between good performers and poor performers then the good ones will walk. You cannot treat everyone the same and not expect some backlash. Even in this economy strong performers are getting job offers.

This applies to jewish schools to. You cannot have a blanket policy and not make your top performers feel like they are not being recognized for their efforts. If they are top performers they will absolutetly find new jobs.

Thinking said...

To clarify my point. These solutions (no salary increase) are short term bandaids that will result in long term outcomes that will negate any benefit. Unfortunately, this is how many poor functioning organizations and yeshivos work.

Is hiring the dean's brother in law to be the comptroller over an experienced CPA a good decision because you can save 25% on salary? No, you will lose in other areas.

Is hiring a rebbi's wife to be your accounts payable person because she knows how to use Quickbooks and print out checks to be signed a good idea and she will only get $10 an hour a good idea? No, she may not know how to decipher invoices line by line to identify additional cost savings and audit each item or account.

Is hiring a pre-school morah based on the fact that you don't have to pay her much because she is getting a tuition discount a good idea? No, parents will pull their kids out.

I think you get my point. This is not about finding cost savings here and there. It is about running a professional organization that can justify every single item in their budget. Organizations and schools that figure this out are the ones who are still viable today and not struggling to find money.

Anyone seeing the correlation between what automakers/banks are going through and what our schools are going through? We are not suffering because of the economy, we are suffering because we use the same economics.

Anonymous said...

What school has 40 employees to lay off?

A school that is in the process of closing its doors? I wonder which school he is talking about (I doubt it is Shulamith, but who knows)?

Or maybe they are laying off 40 older, experienced, higher paid employees and will then hire younger, less experienced, lower paid employees?

A relative of mine is a Head of School at a relatively large MO day school and they are instituting a small salary cut for everyone next school year. He also imposed a salary cut on himself even though he is still in mid-contract.


Dave said...

This is not about finding cost savings here and there. It is about running a professional organization that can justify every single item in their budget.

It's both.

Companies are freezing or cutting pay because revenues are declining. Does this mean that some people might leave? Some people might always leave.

But when income goes down, companies end up cutting costs as well. And I can assure you that I'd much rather have no raise this year (and in fact, I do know that I will not get a raise this year) than have someone on my team laid off so I can get a bump.

SephardiLady said...

What do you think would provide a better morale boost to employees?

Better behavior from the students. What goes on in a lot of schools is ridiculous. Clamp down on behavior and you will have a number of more satisfied employees.

Letting 2 senior employees go and providing the other 100 with 3% increases or doing nothing? You don't necessarily have to raise tuition. To not raise salaries, particularly when there is still a lot of "fat" to be cut from our schools will lead to disenfranchised employees who will spend the whole year grumbling about not getting raises and where money is being wasted. It's just not worth the "savings" it is beliebed to be providing

The parent body as a whole is loosing income and loosing wealth. Even if tuition doesn't have to be raised, we still have a huge problem.

My opinion is that schools should always be run efficiently, in good times and in bad. I don't feel the need to choose between laying off two senior employees and giving raises to teachers.

If there are two senior employees thatare completely expendable, that dead weight should have been let go yesterday.

Yes, we need to pay competitive salaries, but what was yesterday's competitive salary might not be today's senior salary. Perhaps I am completely off base, but I don't see forgoing a raise right now to be particularly problematic. The grumbling about tuition has been going on a long time, but this time it might be "real." If parents paying near or full tuition actually take action and go with an alternative, there won't be a choice to compare, there will simply be layoffs as budgets shrink.

tesyaa said...

SL, the alternatives available? Are those homeschooling or public school? Public school might only be an option for younger children who have not spent much time in yeshiva. Sort of like your discussion of cleaning help. When you get used to it, it's hard to give it up. I would say the same about yeshiva. If you never start, you can make the best of your yeshiva alternative. If you think you might consider public school down the road, you might as well never start yeshiva. This is the opposite of most families' experience. When there is just one young child, yeshiva seems affordable. As the children get older and more numerous, the burden becomes untenable. This is especially true since many schools raise rates for grades 4-5, 6-8, and high school is a whole other story.

Anonymous said...

The best morale booster for teachers at frum schools might be to go work in a public school for a year. Dealing with very difficult kids and layers and layers of buerocracy and hours of forms and paperwork on nights and weekends due to the no child left behind act, and having to teach to the test will be a real eye opener.

Ateres said...

Here are some areas that seem like good cost-cutters to me:

1. Trips- each class can have local field trips instead to free places using parents as drivers

2. Yearbook- Why do schools need fancy, full-color yearbooks with a full page for each graduate? Make the yearbook black and white with the younger kids having one page per class and the graduates each getting a 1/4 page.

3. Facilities- many schools have facilities that are too large or fancy for their needs

4. Combing elementary and high schools of the same hashkafa. They can share one building, the same secretaries and administration

Esther said...

SL - Good point in your last comment. A lot of the cuts that are being made now because of the economy might be things that should have been done anyway. (Like not keeping unqualified people on staff just because they are the rabbi's daughter.) I'm hoping that when this whole economic situation has improved, we will find that a lot of poor practices that you have discussed on this blog will have been stopped in the meantime.

Ateres said...

Also, I think that Jewish schools do need more staff since secular teachers usually cannot teach limudei kodesh and vice versa. Therefore, they tend to have more part-time teachers while public schools tend to have fewer teachers, but each one teaches full-time.

This is particularly true in charedi schools since they only teach kodesh in the morning an chol in the afternoon

Al said...

Salary freezes are a blunt instrument. When you freeze salaries, you are effectively cutting salary by inflation...

Blanket raises should be gone, yesterday. This is not a union shop, stop acting like it. Start acting like a private school, not the NYC public school system in the 1950s. Look at what your successful private schools do... the good people get raises and promotions, the bad people get cut.

When you do blanket raises and freezes, you reward failure and punish success... this is a recipe for failure... You keep the crappy staff, as the good ones look for employment elsewhere to get a raise for being good.

We probably need a new solution for the poorer families. Charter School + plethora of after school programs for each Hashkafa might be a really good thing... the MO, the nominally Orthodox (not Torah observant, go to a Orthodox Shul), non-Orthodox, and Charedi kids whose parents want them to get a Jewish education will all get a Jewish education that matches their viewpoints and theology, while the kids could learn secular subjects and Hebrew in a standard environment... might result in a little more understanding across viewpoints.

That would let the parents that are footing the bills to either save money because they aren't subsidizing others (you'll see consolidation as 40% of the classes disappear), or get value for their dollar. In either case, you'd free up Tzedakah money to subsidize, as a community, the after school education... you could make a goal of making that free.

SephardiLady said...

Al-I hope I didn't give the impression I believe in a complete salary freezes. Just like I oppose blanket raises, I don't think a complete freeze is a must. If there are teachers, e.g., that are suggesting efficiences, sucessfully marketing a school and increasing enrollment, a small raise would be in order. But to raise 100 teahcers 3% for morale. I think not. Not in this environment.

ProfK said...

Anonymous, it's not the Shulamit school. For many reasons not cogent to discuss here, it first of all no longer qualifies as a "large girls' school," and it does not have much more than 40 teaching staff altogether, if that much. It's closing has been imminent because of having moved a branch of the school out to Long Island and severely decling enrollments because of less of a pool of the type of parents who would send to Shulamit remaining in the general Midwood area. The only schools that might qualify for having so large a staff that they could be considering letting go 40 would be one of the Bais Yaakov schools that has both an elementary and high school under one name. And again, that could not be 40 classroom teachers that are being talked about even with the big Bais Yaakov in Boro Park. Staff could refer to anyone who provides any kind of service to the school, full-time or part-time.

As to the raises, raises were never a sure thing or even regular in the more right wing schools. Frankly, it sometimes depended on how badly they needed you on whether or not you would see some sort of a raise. The better you were at your job, the more you were an asset to the school, the more they depended on your contributions, both in your teaching and in doing extras, the more likely that when a raise was possible you were going to get one. And general studies teachers were also more likely to get those raises before limudei kodesh teachers were.

Ezzie said...

SL - Perhaps we're all looking at this wrong...? Maybe this is a school that was one of many which felt it their duty to supply jobs to a large segment of the population, and at this point they're hitting the realization that that is not economically sustainable?

If so, this is something that should be both sad for those who are getting cut but a good sign in terms of the future approach.

rosie said...

Our children went to a small town cheder with no secretary or office staff, a janitor that came after hours, no lunchroom or lunchroom help, not much of a playground other than a parking lot, parents that drove on trips, and a small amount raised for teacher gifts for Chanukah and Purim. High school girls productions though, was a big expense. Uniforms were not cheap either but at least it kept the clothes competition down.
The downside was that if a child got sick or needed to leave the classroom, there was no one to tend to him. Not all parents stepped up to the plate to drive on trips, leaving that job to those who couldn't say "no". If a kid forgot his lunch, or in some cases was too poor to bring one, there was not much of an alternative except to ask other kids to share or try to get the parents to bring something to school. The school suffered from lack of cleanliness due to the fact that there was no one to clean until after hours. Combining grades to save money was also done, resulting in close in age, same gender siblings being classmates. Most kids hate that.
BTW, I hear that those high school girls productions in some places cost mega bucks to produce.

SephardiLady said...

Ezzie-I'm more than certain this school is one of those institutions that sees itself as more of a "job creation" agency than a business.

The problem is that every institution who is just waking up now has contributed to weakening the yeshiva system. I just hope the weakening can be corrected, but I'm personally getting more and more pessimistic since I started this blog.

Ezzie said...

Agreed. Hopefully this is the wakeup call, however painful.