Some Things I Liked:
1. Here, there, and everywhere sleepaway camp has been called a necessity. While I am sure that others have questioned whether or not camp is a luxury, I believe Rav Schacter is one of the few to go on record and call camp a luxury. He even mentioned how he spent different summers with different aunts and uncles. So not only did he defy "conventional wisdom," but he essentially gave a stamp of approval to alternative plans.
2. There are schools that ask on the scholarship application about the child's own earnings. Rav Schachter called this "unreasonable" saying " it will squash their incentive to make money." Too bad the question of how much to take from a second job/third job/wife's new job was not asked. I think the same (economic) concept can easily apply to adults.
3. He mentions that we need to mentor people on how to manage their money, i.e. teach skills. I couldn't agree more and, although I don't like "big brother" type intervention as a general rule, I sometimes wonder if a mandatory mentoring program for those who are applying for scholarships who seem to be headed into a deep hole should be required for the sake of the entire kehilla, not just the family themselves.
4. I appreciate the explanations of what constitutes ircha and priorities in giving, especially with the needs of other communities seem greater than our own.
5. The recognition that attrition is a possibility. I think for a long time the conventional wisdom was that people will find a way. (Do see last section for an additional comment on attrition).
Something That Needs More Explanation
Rav Schachter mentions numerous times that this generation of yeshiva/day school students is less committed than the previous generation. For the life of me, I can't understand why this is true (although I am trying). So many families have placed a second breadwinner into the marketplace, not to pay for any luxuries, but to eek out a little bit extra tuition after paying the marginal taxes and day care for younger children. There are grandparents helping pay for tuitions of numerous grandchildren, as their own children can't meet the full obligation. How many parents have racked up tremendous debt to pay for schooling?
In addition, I'm worried if nearly universal, across the board intensive Jewish Education is resulting in decreased commitment. That can't be good.
The Big Picture
Rav Schachter starts of his talk with a short analysis of how tuitions came to rise so rapidly (better paid staff, small classes, and larger families). He also mentions job layoff a small time later, imploring members of the kehilla to to help secure jobs for the unemployed.
I get the feeling that those in leadership do not quite understand the full extent of the financial crisis being faced by the Orthodox community (tuition being only one of a number of other issues) the same way that I am some readers (Mark comes to mind) are seeing the crisis. I get the feeling that leadership sees the problem as a combination of (1) not enough charitable donations being designated towards Day Schools combined with (2) too many household expenses, many of which are unnecessary (Rav Schachter singled out cell phones and IPods for kids, as well as lavish bar mitzvahs and weddings), that is being currently exacerbated by (3) the current wave of unemployment resulting from the current recession.
Note that I used the word exasperated in regards to the terrible job losses. Job loss is only one macro issue and the other macro issues that I believe are being completely overlooked, have been looming large for a long time. They include the following:
- The proliferation of credit which allowed families to continue propping up a lifestyle that was really outside of their reach. Despite the lack of availability of cash, families were able to pay for tuition and other luxuries via home equity lines, cash out refinances, and credit cards). Now these sources of "cash" are increasingly unavailable and families are finally having to realize their current needs in cash. . . . and they don't have enough.
- Numerous families not only tapped into their homes, but also have high levels of consumer debts, which continue to grow and for which the increasing interests payments are crowding out discretionary spending.
- Lack of savings. Saving early and saving often creates a passive and continually growing source of passive income. This income can fund future needs and even lessen the blow when things don't go quite right (job loss, decreased profits, layoffs).
- And speaking of lack of savings, I think there is a growing realization that perhaps savings is necessary to pay for future needs. (I predict it won't be long before Jewish publications are running stories about the "Retirement Savings Crisis").
Some Other Questions
If there really are no expenses to cut and increasing class size is not secheldik (I am unsure that the studies Rav Schachter refers to vis a vis class size are applicable in many frum schools as many classes that are being run are already smaller, sometimes significantly smaller, than the study samples), I would like to know what is acceptable? I'm personally afraid that unless something is declared "mutar" even as an experiment, that we will continue to collapse under the weight of our institutions. And I would note that if schools collapse that cutting salaries (I believe MTA did announce 15% salary cut for Rebbeim) won't be the least of our issues.
And lastly regarding the threat of attrition, does the Rav believe that public schooling is the only threat of attrition? I, for one, do not believe this to be the case.
Your comments and my apologies if anything is misconstrued as irreverent. I'm just trying to explain things as I see them. While I don't think the full situation is being understood, this is the first time I have been informed of numerous public venues regarding the financial crisis and I've been running this blog forum for a few years now and receive plenty of emails from all over.