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Monday, March 16, 2009

Mind Blowing: A Charter School Was In the Works

In previous posts, we learned that Catholic Schools in financial trouble have been taking some unconventional routes to save themselves. One such route in inner city Catholic schools, which largely serve non-Catholics, is to convert the schools to charter schools. Such is the case in NYC and DC.

I was shocked to find this article in the Jewish Press. According to the article, the Yeshiva Elementary School in Miami Beach, a K-8 institution of 450 students was in deep financial trouble that the administration secured a heter to divide the school into two separate divisions. Behind on payroll and in significant debt, the administration wanted to spin the general studies division off into a charter school (which would be open to all students of all religious backgrounds).

The plan to divide the school was spoiled when the parents were informed of this plan and rallied prominent Rabbis to speak against the idea. The school does not want to go against "the gedolim." The parents also quickly raised over $100,000 to help the school remain solvent. But, anyone who has ever worked with a budget should realize that such a sum is likely a short term solution, rather than a long term solution. Of course the irony is that the parent body, who likely not completely blame free vis a vis the insolvency, were the ones to rally the opposition.

The general sentiment amongst both the Modern Orthodox and the Yeshiva Community is opposition to charter schools. At least for the Agudah (and you can see Rabbi Shafran's comments), the only 'solution' they support is vouchers, which is basically DOA.

The reporter draws this important conclusion:

Though the plan was shot down, the very fact that an institution like Yeshiva Elementary - a school on the right of the religious spectrum - would even consider such an option underscores the scope and urgency of the financial challenges facing the Orthodox world as it attempts to maintain its decades-old commitment to universal day school education. And it also reflects the growing willingness of some parents and school officials to consider more affordable alternatives.

I think the bottom line is that the years of plenty are drying up, the hurdles being currently faced by Jewish schools are large, and parents are impatient. Imagining money will magically materialize like manna in the dessert I think is a delusion. I can't say I'm gun-ho about charter school or dual language public school programs. But, I'm a realist and you can't opposed all alternatives to a comprehensive day school education when the bank is knocking on your door and you haven't made payroll in months. Insolvency, by definition, requires ACTION, not hopeful wishing. Agudah, what do you suggest besides vouchers? How many months behind on debt repayment and payroll should a school be before an alternative is worth pursuing (remember, an alternative need not be a permanent solution).

Your comments please. . . . .

24 comments:

JS said...

This is precisely what I find so darn frustrating about the Orthodox community: it refuses to help itself.

Even when we have bold leadership step to the plate and try to tackle the tough problems of our time, they are shouted down by others in the name of frumkeit.

To these ne'er-do-wells are against any form of change as they think unless we're moving to what they perceive to the right, we're losing our religious identity. It's these same people who truly believe Yaakov Avinu learned gemara in yeshivat shem v'eiver while wearing a black hat.

I wish we could break off a new branch of Orthodoxy that wouldn't listen to these types of people and would do what made good, common sense within the actual bounds of halacha, not the perceived bounds of halacha.

Lion of Zion said...
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Lion of Zion said...

SL:

i was also shocked to see that article in JP

"remember, an alternative need not be a permanent solution"

i'm beginning think that opposition from the ortho establishment to charter schools is precisely because they are afraid that once parents are no longer afraid of the charter school boogeyman and they become a real presence, the parents may come to realize that the "alternative" might be better than what the establishment can offer and instead come to view day schools as the "alternative."

"The general sentiment amongst both the Modern Orthodox and the Yeshiva Community is opposition to charter schools."

at least among MO, i think you need to distinguish between the establishment and the ordinary folk (especially the more LWMO or MO-lite, or whatever label you prefer). when i visit my friends in the MO suburbs i hear a lot of fear of what is coming and i sense no "opposition" to charter schools. some people may think they are inappropriate, but i think most are simply indifferent. there is certainly no opposition. and as they tell me, if the economy does not improve and tuition is reigned in, parents will have no choice but to turn to public schools (whether charter or otherwise). this is the reality.

ProfK said...

If I may take a different view here, what happened in Florida could simply be a case of a school being out of touch with its parent membership. The ADMINISTRATION of the school developed a plan to take care of its financial problems. It sounds as if parents were never involved in this portion of the planning or there would not have been such a vehement reaction when the plan was presented. It also sounds as if the school was not forthcoming about the actual, real numbers when it came to the money.

When presented with the plan the parents, who are the customers of the school, said "NO!" They also raised funds to alleviate present financial problems. A question: if they could raise the funds now, were they asked, specifically, to do so before? Were real numbers given out? Or was there the usual general grumbling that money was tight, without any figures to back that up? Perhaps the money raised will only be a bandaid on a gaping wound, or perhaps not.

If the school's administration is open and forthright about what funds are needed and why, and parents are in sync with the school's plans for spending, then maybe other funds will also be forthcoming. Clearly this group of parents has spoken out that they don't want the school's answer to the finance problem. It's now up to both groups--administration and parents--to work together, not apart.

Frankly, this illustrates very well why some people believe that Jewish schools should not be privately owned and administered, but should be a community enterprise, with adequate community oversight. Far too often, it is THEM versus US, when it should just plain be US.

Lion of Zion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lion of Zion said...

PROFK:

"some people believe that Jewish schools should not be privately owned and administered, but should be a community enterprise, with adequate community oversight."

yes, yes, yes.
schools should be like shuls, with parents as members. not like businesses, with parents as customers.

"If the school's administration is open and forthright about what funds are needed and why"

i see you're still tipsy from purim

Avi said...

I dunno, I'm not opposed to charter schools, but I completely understand the strong reaction against them. I spend tens and tens of thousands of dollars to send my kids to day school. I prefer putting this money to work giving my kids an immersive religious experience along with a solid secular education rather than buying myself the high end sports car I've always wanted. And then drive it off a pier and buy a new one next year. And then drive that off the pier and buy a new one the year after that. And so on.

If there was a charter school system + yeshiva classes in the afternoon, there is literally no way it could provide the same end-to-end frum environment that my day school offers. But if it was half the cost, I'd definitely be tempted to pull my kids out of day school and buy that sports car (or work less, or save for retirement, or give more tzedaka or whatever. SL, the sports car analogy is not intended to be an endorsement of throwing money at a 12 cylinder polluting objet d'art. Though I *do* admit to wanting one). Would this be shortchanging my kids relative to what they're getting now? Quite possibly. But it might also pass the "good enough" threshold for the parents, especially given the cost of the alternative. So I understand why some "gedolim" may see this is a real threat.

Nonetheless, I think charter schools would be far preferable to regular public schools, which are going to be the default alternative soon enough if tuition keeps rising and income levels keep dropping.

Lion of Zion said...

AVI,

for many people the choice is not yeshivah or a new fancy sports car every year.

"I prefer putting this money to work giving my kids an immersive religious experience along with a solid secular education"

but the point is that at least regarding the secular education, you could be getting the same thing for free. and let's be honest, despite all the tuition, in a lot of our schools the secular education is not so "solid"

"there is literally no way it could provide the same end-to-end frum environment that my day school offers"

this is actually an issue my wife raised when we were considering sending our son to the Y for day camp.

SephardiLady said...

Avi-No need to feel guilty about wanting a sports car. I think we all have our own wants.

Anon426 said...

Avi: "Would this be shortchanging my kids relative to what they're getting now?"

I have often wondered about this idea of shortchanging the kids. I sometimes think that the life my family is leading now, which includes major shalom bayis issues and stress exacerbated *greatly* by our financial situation but which INCLUDES a full-time excellent secular/Jewish education, is not what's really short-changing them.

Yes, I want them to have a solid Jewish education, however, I also want them to grow up in a stable home. If the shalom bayis issues lead to divorce, as they have almost done at least once, and public school would alleviate the lion's share of stress in our home, then are they not being "short-changed" in spite of, maybe because of, the full-time excellent day school education?

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-I hear your point. What would be interesting to know is just how many receivables are sitting on the books? Unfortunately, many institutions have a balance sheet full of receivables. Scambling to fundraise is nice (although $100K in the scheme of things probably isn't much), but if income isn't being collected on time and payroll and debt repayment falls behind again, it is back to square one.

Teaneck Resident said...

Hi SephardiLady -- it appears the Englewood charter school application was rejected by the district. I have a copy of the powerpoint presentation the man spearheading the effort gave last night. Can you post your email address if you are interested in seeing it?

SephardiLady said...

I am interested in seeing it. My email is at the top of my blog, but I think I need to make it more prominent.

Nonetheless, email me at Orthonomics AT Gmail dot com.

Also, how to you feel about the application being rejected? What are others saying?

Anon819 said...

Anon426 - Thank you for expressing something that many of us are dealing with. You've described my family as well.

Anonymous said...

Teaneck Resident, are you referring to last year's charter school proposal or the current discussion regarding a Hebrew immersion program in the public school?

I believe that the Hebrew immersion program in still under review. According to the Englewood Public School web site, there is a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the program and determine the level of interest of people currently in the public school system.

Al said...

I am a supporter of the Charter school approach. However, I would be dishonest if I didn't admit that there was a benefit to the all-day Frum environment that only a Yeshiva can provide.

However, the Day Schools don't provide an all-Frum environment, because they are filled with non-Orthodox families, nominally Orthodox but non Observant families, and lip-service Observant Israeli families that want Hebrew education but not a religious environment.

In life, there are trade offs. The propaganda that "your children will assimilate" if you send them to public or charter schools is absurd. Quite frankly, two generations ago, before the uptick in Day Schools, the Orthodox intermarriage rate was 10%. While the non-Orthodox rate has doubled in that time frame, Orthodoxy has dropped to 3%.

Now, near universal Day School/Yeshiva is a part of that, but increasing observant in the Orthodox community, a near universal 5 day work week (and most 6 day white collar firms (law, accounting, consulting, etc.) are okay with Jewish workers working Sunday instead of Saturday also contributed to that.

That said, $60k for 5 children is a LOT of money, and there are other uses for that money that might be of benefit to a family. Forget after school care, for $60k, you could probably have private after school tutoring for your children, a personal Rebbe, for $30k/year, and spent all the Chagim in Israel...

Plenty of young Rabbis could work part time "day jobs," plus after school tutoring and earn a nice living.

The fact is, your children could benefit from other things, plus take some financial pressure off. For some families, full time Jewish education might still be the right trade off, but for others, this might work.

We need to drop the "this or nothing" approach of this generation, and do a little more creative thinking.

Avi said...

Anon426 & Anon819,

I was not trying to make light of the situation, I was just using an analogy that most people can easily visualize. You need to make the best decision for your family's needs and get the professional and Rabbinic guidance needed to do so.

-avi

Anonymous said...

ProfK - Frankly, this illustrates very well why some people believe that Jewish schools should not be privately owned and administered

I don't understand this statement. Are most day schools really privately owned, and presumably operated at a profit (for the benefit of the owners), or are they nonprofits (operated for the benefit of the administration - or seemingly so). For example, who owns Yeshiva of Flatbush? Who owns Jewish Foundation School (in SI)?

ProfK said...

Anonymous 10:33,
I can't speak about every dayschool and yeshiva in the country, but yes, some are privately owned/privately administered. Even some of the non-profits are firmly under the sole control of their founders/administrators. Yeshiva of Brooklyn, both male and female divisions, is one such example. There is a board existing somewhere which has about as much authority is a slug caught in a salt field. It is what the Mandel family decides is going to be that is what is done--period.

JFS in Staten Island is harder to categorize. It was originally an independent day school and then it ran into some financial trouble. The then RJJ schools bailed it out and it became part of the RJJ family for funding purposes. The question is, who "owned" RJJ? While there was a board active in the school the final decision about policy was always first Arthur Schick and then the menahel of the school. Parents did NOT decide school policy. Now these RJJ schools have morphed into Mercaz HaTorah, I guess to differentiate them from RJJ in Edison. Yet, ask anyone here in the community who actually "owns" the Mercaz schools and you won't get the answer "our community does."

Lion of Zion said...

PROFK:

"Parents did NOT decide school policy."

are you aware of any school (locally) where parent do decide school policy? or at the very least where parents are taken seriously?

A Tuition Solution said...

For those living in states that have them, take advantage of virtual charter schools. You can get a top notch secular education for free without having to step into a building.

Anonymous said...

ProfK - I can't speak about every dayschool and yeshiva in the country, but yes, some are privately owned/privately administered. Even some of the non-profits are firmly under the sole control of their founders/administrators. Yeshiva of Brooklyn, both male and female divisions, is one such example. There is a board existing somewhere which has about as much authority is a slug caught in a salt field. It is what the Mandel family decides is going to be that is what is done--period.

But that wasn't my question. Let's take this example, do the Mandel's "own" YOB, or do they control it by virtue of being the biggest financial contributors to the school? Those are two completely separate things.

Also, please note that ALL schools (religious or not, including universities) will allow their large donors to influence policy to a great degree. That is simply the way the world works.

JFS in Staten Island is harder to categorize. It was originally an independent day school and then it ran into some financial trouble. The then RJJ schools bailed it out and it became part of the RJJ family for funding purposes. The question is, who "owned" RJJ? While there was a board active in the school the final decision about policy was always first Arthur Schick and then the menahel of the school. Parents did NOT decide school policy. Now these RJJ schools have morphed into Mercaz HaTorah, I guess to differentiate them from RJJ in Edison. Yet, ask anyone here in the community who actually "owns" the Mercaz schools and you won't get the answer "our community does."

Having moved out of Staten Island about 20 years ago, I didn't even know the whole story about JFS and RJJ, etc. But even if the answer is not "the community", there still isn't an owner per se of any sort. But in the end, it is really a subset of the community that owns the school - that subset includes the administrators, the other folks that care enough about it to help manage it (oftentimes badly, but at least they care), and most of all, the large donors.

But back to your original statement, I am aware of very few schools, and no Jewish day schools, that are "privately owned and administered". The preschool that I send 3 of my kids to is privately owned and administered, but that isn't so remarkable as most stand-alone preschools (and day care centers) are privately owned profit-earning enterprises.

Do you know of any Jewish day schools that are privately owned and administered?

Mark (10:33 above was also me, but I forgot to sign it)

Anonymous said...

Torah Temimah is privately owned, from what I understand.

Anonymous said...

Yeshiva Ruach Chaim in Broooklyn is privately owned and administered.

Whether officially a non-profit or not (I dno't know its official status), it is widely percieved as a for-proift operation for Rabbi K.