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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reigning in the Budget or Playing with the Numbers?
New Jersey's Kushner School

Hat Tip: JS

I like to gather bits and pieces of day school news that is out there for reference. I also read whatever available information out there regarding day schools with calculator in hand. JS pointed me to an article in the NJ Jewish News regarding budget slashing at the Kushner School (of Kosher Palette Cookbook fame). I have been informed by readers that Kushner is unique in that it is a very upscale school and is quite modern on the spectrum of Orthodoxy.

Kushner is looking at what the article labels as pro-active solutions. I would not call the plan to aggressively fund raise as particularly pro-active or different. I've already labelled increased fundraising as "same old, same old" because I don't know an organization that hasn't been engaging in fundraising for the past 25 years as this tuition problem has been brewing. Perhaps aggressive refers to some fundraising method we have yet to see.

Here is where the article gets interesting to me. The school has committed to cutting already massive tuitions ranging from over in the lower grades to $11,000 to $20,000 by high school by $200 per student. The school has 700 students which would result in a total of $140,000 in savings if you assume that every parent will pay $200 less. Let's make that assumption.

So what is the cut that has been announced: a $450,000 subsidized lunch program. I'm not sure if the program costs $450,000 over whatever it brings in, or if lunch is provided. I doubt there are many Kushner students receiving government lunch, especially given that "only" 1/3 of the 700 students are on any type of scholarship.

If you take the tuition cut and add back the cost of parents providing lunch, you have to wonder if there is a *real* tuition cut or a *stealth* tuition increase that will later show up in household expenses undetected. Interesting.

In addition, the school is considering selling the athletic fields. This too is intriguing. Something important to remember when selling off property (and many organizations do so in a crunch, homeowner associations is a good example), is that the cash infusion is a one time infusion, rather than a repeat event. While utility and maintenance costs will like fall, if those costs are not significant enough to stabilize expenses in the long term, it is only a matter of time before the same questions are faced again.

I can certainly see an argument to cut extracurriculars and facility costs and look towards a more bare bones program. Of course, many tuition paying parents may be far from happy which can hurt the income side of the budget. As a parent myself, I can't say that I'd be too thrilled with the proposal. It will cost at least $200 a year to send lunch for growing teenagers. And if the ball fields get sold and sports programs/PE presumably get cut, families seeking involvement with sports will likely have to pay out of pocket to replace these programs.

I don't know about you, but I've been pricing out some sports classes for my own kids and extracurriculars are just plain expensive!

Read the article. Leave your comments. Tell me if you think that there is a real tuition decrease proposed or a silent increase disguised as a decrease. I imagine that many of us will see similar notes coming home from our own children's schools in the future.


Anonymous said...


Kushner is a city! It is located aloft a mountatin that can be seen far and wide. Selling off pieces is not the craziest thing because there are probably 18 fields. Also I thought that they ment renting pieces which is even smarter.

However, 200$ compared to what tuition is just a nice gesture, nothing else. There are too many people on scholarship for it to make a difference and therefore the school is just cutting the 200 as an excuse to cut back more because the BIG DONORS lost alot of money, I.E. like Mr. Kushner himself. The 200 is just a disguise to the fact that the school is in real trouble, along with other schools, because the philanthropists can't do it anymore.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree that sending lunch from home is so terrible. I know that lot of kids on lunch programs don't eat the lunch because they don't like it, and supplement with vending machine snacks, etc. At least when they bring from home the parents can provide healthy foods the kids like. (My kids make their own lunches from a young age; they may not make the most well balanced meals, but I know they're taking from my pantry).

Anonymous said...

Cutting the lunch program is a steath tuition increase. The costs to schools that provide lunch are probably less than $5.00 per child per day - although parents are able to provide a healthy lucnh at less cost, so it does make sense to drop the lunch program.

The $200 tuition cut is a token gesture to show that the school "gets it" and tuition has to be brought under control.

The real issue at Kushner and all modern orthodox day schools is revising the structure so that the increase in cost remains in line with the growth in family income. School budgets have a grown at a rate that far outpaced growth in family income. While this was not felt as strongly when the markets were charging ahead, with a drop in wealth due to stock market losses people are beginning to realize this needs to be rationalized.

Parents and schools will have to accept that the schools need to focus on core areas and can not be all things to all students. We can not always invest in the newest technologies - are Smartboards really a necessity - we can not continue to offer very low student teacher ratios, and we can not continue to offer the full range of electives that are common features in our high schools. While all of these are very beneficial, it comes at a great cost, especially if we a pushing families into public schools.

We need schools that the entire community can afford, and not Jewish prep schools for the children of the wealthy. We need to make hard choices and we need to sacrafice for torah education. Recognizing that we can not have it all and that we need to make choices is part of being an adult.

Commenter Abbi said...

Dunno- I grew up on PB&J for lunch with a fruit and a snack and I turned out ok. Nothing cheaper than that. Don't Americans eat a hot dinner anyway? Why is a hot lunch necessary as well?

Ezzie said...

I don't know about you, but I've been pricing out some sports classes for my own kids and extracurriculars are just plain expensive!Sports?! Why?

We always played baseball and football with our friends from school, whether in our own yards, at the school, or in the park.

Cost: Free. (Except for new softballs, a broken window...)

Al said...

Anon wrote, "We need schools that the entire community can afford, and not Jewish prep schools for the children of the wealthy. We need to make hard choices and we need to sacrafice for torah education. Recognizing that we can not have it all and that we need to make choices is part of being an adult."

No, we need both. You need to stop looking at the educated and successful families as vats of money for you to suck out. The elites in this country stay that way through education and networks. Deny the Jewish elites that education, and you sap the next generation of them.

Wealthy Jewish families need comparable schools to the ones their non-Jewish and non-observant colleagues and friends send their children to, otherwise their children are at a disadvantage. That is a separate issue from needing to offer education to the less wealthy.

You lose your full paying nominally Orthodox (Orthodox Shul, not so Orthodox life) families, and you watch the money train stop.

SephardiLady said...

Ezzie-Times have changed. I wish I could throw out all my kids to play ball with their friends for 1-2 hours a day, as we did growing up. But there are few kids around. It makes me sad because that means too many kids are getting fat and kids are lonely. Subject for another post.

Commentor Abbi-I grew up on PB&J and a piece of fruit. That isn't the problem! The issue is that a tuition decrease is being announced, but is isn't truly a decrease. . . no different than the 6 ounce yogurt cups priced the same as the yogurt cups that were 8 ounces or the package of tortillas I purchased today annoucing an increase of 2 extra tortilla, except that the 10 toritillas was, at one time, 12 until it decreased to 8 and now is announcing itself as a bargain at10 tortillas.

Anonymous said...

SL, although I sometimes have complaints about my neighborhood, the very best thing is that there are always kids out playing, biking, etc. It's not like the sterilized suburb where I lived before.

Anonymous said...

Al, I believe you misread the intent of my post.

I beleive our schools should provide an excellent secular and Jewish education. An excellent education does not require very small class sizes, nor does it have to invovle offering elective courses that appeal to a very limited number of students.

We can offer excellence at a price point that more of the community to afford, but it will involve cutting back - I don't see any way around this. I say this as someone who, Baruch HaShem, pays full tuition for three kids in some of the more expensive day schools and high schools in the New York metro area.

I don't think the modern orthodox community is large enough to support Jewish prep schools and lower cost co-ed modern orthodox yeshiva high schools. This would only increase costs and you would have two weaker schools.

Do you think that the Livingston community will benefit from adding another high school to the mix and making Kushner the high school only for the rich?

Modern orthodoxy needs to confrot the moral issues raised by a religious system that works only for the most wealthy. The reality is that we can not have it all - we have to make choices and we should have an open and honest community discussion and determine where our priorities lie.

Anonymous said...

These token decreases in tuition (even amid other changes that may cost more) are simply so the school can say to parents and contributors "We're doing something." Otherwise it has no real effect and no real improvement.


JLan said...

"Dunno- I grew up on PB&J for lunch with a fruit and a snack and I turned out ok. Nothing cheaper than that. Don't Americans eat a hot dinner anyway? Why is a hot lunch necessary as well?"

Gotta be soy butter and jelly. No peanuts in most day schools; no nuts in many (ruling out almond butter).

Al said...

Anon, Modern Orthodoxy is a religion for the professional rich. Take that out of the equation, and it isn't modern Orthodoxy. Modern Orthodoxy aims to meld secular pursuits and religious ones... but the secular pursuits mentioned are those indulged in by wealthy urbanites... opera, orchestra, theatre, etc... you don't hear about modern Orthodoxy being about Jews that have secular pursuits like Nascar racing, monster truck competitions, and UFC matches. :)

Modern Orthodoxy has no room for the less well off, and to be honest, why does it need to? It's a religion whose culture requires a masters degree to enter, generally for both spouses, which makes it a religion for the well off.

Mark, I disagree, a school that did a token decrease and cut a reasonable budget line (450k) is doing SOMETHING. It's a trivial but symbolic cut. How many other schools are cutting tuition? How many are keeping it flat? How many are increasing tuition 5% - 8% despite no wage inflation.

A small symbolic cut combined with a big cut in the budget shows that they are doing something. The question is, will next year have a bigger cut or a bigger increase... that will show if it is a symbolic cut or an attempt to bring things in line.

Lion of Zion said...


"BIG DONORS lost alot of money, I.E. like Mr. Kushner himself"

the school's economic troubles have nothing to do with kushner's finances.


"sterilized suburb"

intersting term. you should start a blog. i'd be fascinated to resd your take on this.

Anonymous said...

Kushner tuition is typical of NJ yeshivas - RYNJ's tuition is very similar

These tuitions are unaffordable for even upper-middle class jewish families

Anonymous said...

AI - you are correct modern orthodoxy has become a religion for the rich - MO yeshiva tuition alone requires one to be part of the upper 5% of US households - add to that a year in israel, summer camp at $7,000 a pop, or a trip to europe or western us, the obligatory pesach in ____, "your staying home for pesach ?" "how can you do that to your wife and kids ? " and the cost of university and off course vacations in january - during "yeshiva break"- YNJ had a picture of an airplane on the January page of their calendar, summer vacation between camp and school - "what are you doing with the kids?

MO schools give off several days before and after pesach and succos - so the rich can get to and from israel, aruba, PR, or whereever they go

Al said...

Anon, but when was it anything else? The origins of Modern Orthodoxy was amongst the well-to-do German Jews that were assimilating and somewhat regretting losing their Judaism, and it provided an intellectual basis for wealthy urban German Jews to remain Jewishly observant and integrated into wealthy German society.

It is a religion of the academic and economic elite American Jews... Well-to-do Jews trying to have it all. I don't think it has "become" a religion for the rich, that's what it is.

It's a Torah-observant version of American Judaism... Orthodox services, Shabbat observant but non-Orthodox lives (non-Orthodox in that Torah-study and other religious pursuits are not at the core of the Modern Orthodox Jew's life... they may engage in some, but they are fully integrated in Americana).

Life involves movies, restaurants, and private schools... Other than the Shabbat/Kashrut/two Jewish spouses, the MO life is indistinguishable from the wealthy Reform communities.

If a struggling middle class Jewish family showed up in a Reform Temple of Doctors, Lawyers, business owners, etc., they would feel equally out of place.

There is plenty of room in the Centrist Orthodox (for the Torah observant) and the Conservative (for the non observant) movements for everyone else. :)

My guess is that Yeshivot will remain for Hareidi Jews, the wealthy MO Jews will maintain their Jewish prep schools, and everyone else will fall into some sort of Hebrew Language Charter + after school Judaic program... with the latter funded by raising money in the guilt ridden MO communities who feel somewhat bad that they don't have scholarship for the less fortunate, but privately happy that their kids are getting a top notch education and mixing with the right kind of Jews...

Anonymous said...

one can be MO in israel and be lower middle class

one could be MO and middle class in the USA between 1880 and 1980 - your prediction for the future of torah education is unfortunately probably true - i suspect that the chareidi world will have schools such as YSV and Bais Yacov of Baltimore to accomodate the middle class MO - for whom torah is very important - others would prefer ps to this type of education.

Anonymous said...


Your views of Modern Orthodoxy are far too cynical and very dismissive of a significant segment of the community.

There are many members of the Modern Orthodox community that value education and culture (both Torah and secular)and who are not wealthy. In any event, this is not the forum to debate the advantages and disadvantages of a Modern Orthodox lifestyle.

The issue is how to build a sustainable model for Jewish day schools - will schools like Kushner, Frisch, SAR, Maimonides and many others still be viable ten or fifteen years from now?

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous above. I agree. Few of the "Modern Orthodox" in my own community are wealthy. Perhaps my definition of Modern Orthodox is different. I, the coupon cutting, frugal living, thrift store shopping, mom without a masters, consider our family modern Orthodox.

The point of this post was to demonstrate that an annouced cut might not be as it seems.

Mike S. said...

Selling off athletic fields provides a one time infusion of cash, but a lifetime of reduced maintenance expenses.

Anonymous said...

LoZ: wow, I am so flattered that someone would suggest I start a blog. I just don't have time, so it's unlikely that'll happen.

My take is that the communities that are more yeshivish (or have a yeshivish population) are more likely to have kids playing outside without supervision. There are a few reasons: 1) even in suburbs, a lot are transplants from Brooklyn, where this is supposedly commonplace; 2) larger families make parents more lax in supervising their children; 3) yeshivish families tend to live in more concentrated areas, so there are a lot more playmates around. There is probably a safety tradeoff, but for my kids to be able to walk to a friend's house from a young age is wonderful for them. In the "sterilized suburb", overprotectiveness was the norm and it was rare to even see a 12 year old walking without an adult on Shabbos.

We teach safety, we don't let little kids cross big streets or walk long distances alone, we don't let them walk at night, but we have to allow them more independence because they see it everywhere.

JS said...

In relation to Kusher:
I have heard rumors that Mr. Kushner has cut off the school to some extent - I have no idea if this is true. I imagine the economic situation is a contributing factor if not for him, than for other donors. As for the lunch program, I don't know how it works now. I know they have a huge cafeteria and bring in a local restaurant, but I have no idea if lunch is "free" for students or if they have to pay a reduced amount to be on a "meal plan" to get lunch. Either way, I think this is a stealth increase in tuition. It's passing a significant cost onto parents - assuming they're keeping the lunch program, parents now have to pay more for it and/or have to pay more to make lunch.

I think schools like Kushner and Frisch (who also has a gigantic over the top new campus) need to reevaluate their whole thought process to Jewish education. They should be working with donors who want to donate for some lavish, but unnecessary, thing and guiding them into more prudent purchases. A school doesn't need some large fountain (no idea if a school has one, but I wouldn't be surprised) and the upkeep costs are never part of the donation.

JS said...

In terms of the Modern Orothodox Wealthy:

Al, you're way off base here. I grew up in MO communities and have friends and family in MO communities. Yes, on a whole, people there make more money than the average American. And yes, on a whole, people have a much higher standard of living than the average American. But, at most 5-10% of a MO community are truly wealthy. The rest are doing as well or worse than their neighbors. The perception that MO are wealthy has more to do with the fact that MO communities are located in more upscale, well-off suburban towns.

The MO who are doctors, lawyers, wall street professionals, etc are not necessarily wealthy either. Like most Orthodox people they have kids early and have lots of them. They are forced to pay full tuition. I'm not saying you should cry for these people, but they're not wealthy - they're comfortable. Very few people in the communities I know have large amounts of disposable income and are the "machers" that you're thinking of.

As for the vast majority of MO, like I said, they're doing as well or worse than their neighbors. Those doing as well are more frugal and/or have help from grandparents and/or have above-average salary and/or waiting to have kids and/or have fewer kids. Their neighbor may have the same job, but drives a brand new car because he doesn't have anywhere near the same expenses.

I do agree though that MO as a branch of Orthodoxy is becoming a religion for the wealthy. This has more to do with the leadership not prioritizing correctly (see above with the lavish over-the-top yeshivas like Kushner and Frisch, etc). But also, even MO yeshivas are pushing students to become more "frum," more "yeshivish," more "charedi." This is in part due to the fact that many MO rabbeim are not MO themselves. MO is shifting to the right. And with that shift, fewer students are going to the elite universities or pursuing the elite careers. I know many classmates who were accepted into Ivy league schools or other top-notch schools, went for a year in Israel at the behest of the MO school, and came back to not go to their accepted school and instead go to YU and go into rabbinics or Jewish community work, etc. That's a huge economic drain on the community that is not sustainable.

Baruch said...

JS - you clearly do not live in Bergen County, NJ - which is one of the primary strongholds of modern orthodoxy in the USA.

Furthermore - rich is usually defined as the upper 5% of US income earners (about $200,000 per year) - that amount is not enough to afford yeshiva tuition and live in bergen county for a family of 3 children. What you are describing as wealthy is a 0.1% upper sliver of american society. AI is correct - to be MO you must be wealthy (upper 3% of us households) or have wealthy parents that pay tuition for you or pay for other expenses while they apply for scholorships