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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Time for a Total Money Makeover

I believe we will continue to see more and more of these letters about teachers not getting paid. I can't think of much that makes me more passionate than those who bounce checks on unsuspecting people or employers that bring such injustice on their employees.

As a parent, I find the idea that a child's school might not be paying their staff horrifying! I applauded when unpaid teachers in Lakewood walked out because I don't think anyone should put up with such treatment. Months later, it doesn't seem teachers in other schools have jumped on that band wagon. I really don't understand why teachers don't just up and quit after two or three months of not being paid. I do understand why the schools don't do what some businesses and even government are doing/have done which is closing the doors for a period of time. The schools don't want to admit defeat and still want to "make Shabbos for themselves," a trend noted by Marvin Schick. We can't detract from the dedication these teachers have, something I have a hard time relating to being that the reason I work is primarily for the money. It isn't easy when chesed and work cross paths.

But I don't believe that non-payment is a matter of being "simply unable to pay their teachers." I think the issue of teachers not being paid is a much bigger issue, and that issue is not knowing and/or remaining in perpetual denial, about when it is time to have a "Total Money Makeover" (a reference to Dave Ramsey's book on personal finance). Insolvency, or near insolvency, is something that the financial records should show coming.

Personally, if I found out that my own school wasn't paying their employees, I'd (hope that I would) take my own "drastic" step and pull my kids out. If the school can't manage the money I and others have already paid, I don't see a lot of purpose in giving them even more money to handle with no detailed plan regarding the long term. And if the schools aren't announcing their own "Total Money Makeover," no matter how unpopular, I'm not sure that a giving them a band aid is of any long term consequence.

(I apologize if I'm in a negative mood this afternoon. I am in one! Wish I could talk about that, but I can't. So you get this instead. It is related.)

Dear Editor,

This letter is to make the general public aware of a situation that needs to be addressed. There are yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs that are simply unable to pay their teachers. If you are in a financial situation which allows you to help, please get involved. Before you take that well-needed vacation, buy that luxury car, or redecorate your home, please consider the option of scaling down and spending what you would have spent on yourself to help the mechanchim who are going to work despite not being paid. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures. Won't you step up to the plate and help the schools meet their payroll? By the way, teachers aren't the only ones struggling. Please support all mosdos of tzedaka in the most generous way possible.

A Teacher Whose Last Paycheck Was in


Ezzie said...

What's amazing is that the letter faults not the school, but people who spend money on extravagances. (Not that they should, but it's not their fault, unless they're also getting tuition reductions.)

Al said...

Bingo, the entitlement complex is out of control. The expectation that others must give ALL their money to you, or that your poor life decisions are their fault (sorry, when the school bounces a check, they are in default of their contract, your job search starts the NEXT DAY).

Clearly our teachers are overpaid compared to the market. If they are working for months without pay, their market salary is clearly zero, because they are willing to work for nothing.

The lack of anger at the incompetent administration and boards of directors that approve unrealistic budgets, fraudulently keep uncollectible receivables on the books, and overpay administrative staff that they are cozy with is outrageous.

The anger NEEDS to be 100% directed at the "communal leaders" that have let these schools go down the drain financially, destroying the lives of their employees along with them. Each year a larger portion of income has been directed at Jewish education with nothing to show for it but schools running in the red during boom times.

Stop enabling, there should be ZERO donations until the schools put together a realistic budget that can be met, otherwise, it's business as usual as the schools bounce payroll. I'm sure the annual dinner extravaganzas that honor the bigwigs and let the administrators/board members feel like hot shots while they neglect their fiduciary responsibilities haven't been cut.

Show me a Dean/Head of School that resigned after the school went insolvent. How about board members that resigned? Nope, keep pushing the costs on the struggling middle class.

JS said...

Hate to say it, but I agree with the above. Why should hard-working people who have extra cash throw it at an incompetently run yeshiva? The real problem here is these teachers are suckers, have nowhere else to go for a job, or both. Are the administrators not getting paid since February?

This isn't chesed, it's stupidity. We learned from last week's parsha that one should place the value of his own life over the value of another's - not getting paid and placing yourself and your family at serious risk is not a mitzvah.

Giving these schools more money is like trying to put out a fire with a water gun. The schools should be allowed to run out of money and shut down. If they keep getting propped up, good money is sent after bad, and no real change can happen.

And I second Al's sentiment: where's the accountability? It's not rocket science to run a school, why aren't people more angry about the idiots in charge?

David said...

I think Al is right. Sometimes the system has to break in order to get fixed; I think this is one of those times.

SephardiLady said...

Ezzie-My original post was about the entitlement present. I ended up going with this, same lines as Al and JS, although not nearly as forceful. The responsibility to pay teachers is on the school. (Of course I believe parents without the means should think twice about agreeing to something they can't swing financially).

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder if those schools have enough money to pay the administrators?

I also have to wonder if they pick and choose among the teachers who gets paid and who doesn't? Maybe a Rav gets paid and a Morah doesn't? Maybe a teacher with 6 kids gets paid and the teacher with no kids doesn't?


DAG said...

Having been in a situation where my paycheck was months behind, I feel for the teachers. It is not easy to get another job, and sometimes the hope for payment from your job is worth more than trying your luck on the job market.

What I don't understand is how these Rabbis sleep at night with their workers starving.

I quit after my boss took a family vacation to Israel(his travel is covered by a donor)while he left us out on the limb. He didn't even have the decency to apologize that he could not give us a penny of back salary before the Yomim Norayim.

It took me 5 months to find another job, and the bills I accrued will haunt me for years.

Anonymous said...

sigh. i wonder if the schools should just say, look, you dont like how i run, go elsewhere. now *that* would be a business model.

Lion of Zion said...


that's a horrible story. you won't here me say to many good things about satmar, but i will say that when i worked in their elementary school i received *every* check on time

Al said...

Want to talk broken, find out how much the school pays annually on "bank fees" coverage overdrafts, etc., because rather than operating like a business with credit lines to smooth out around cash flow problems, they just overdraft accounts (WAY more expensive than paying 8% - 10% on money for 2-4 weeks until the next flow of tuition comes).

A school with 500 students and tuition average of 14k with a 50% "collect" rate after scholarships is a $3.5 million dollar operations... at that size you should be able to function like a real small business...

Heads have to start rolling, but it's a cozy relationship of boards/administration, where they don't care about the "little people," it's all about being a bigwig for giving time, money, or other people's money by giving unqualified people jobs.

The amount of damage done to the Orthodox world by these school's criminal mismanagement (bouncing checks is a criminal act) of finances is terrifying... We have probably wiped out the wealth of an entire generation of Frum Jews in this failed experiment... wealth that will be damned hard to replace as our Yeshiva graduates can't support their families...

gavra@work said...

Instead of asking to pay schools, the teacher in the letter should just ask for the money directly. That way she knows she is being supported by community (i.e. on Tzedaka), and we know the money goes to who needs it, not an admin/pricipal.

rosie said...

This problem has been happening for years and is not new or due to the current economic instability.
Part of the reason that unpaid teachers stay on duty is the same reason that hospital staff stayed on duty after hurricane Katrina hit; they are in the profession for other reasons besides money. They feel a sense of responsibility.
Before assuming that yeshiva administrators are paying themselves before paying teachers, find out if that is indeed true. Some might also be going down with the ship.
What the letter to the editor says is true; yeshivas can't exist without donations.

Anonymous said...

DAG - I quit after my boss took a family vacation to Israel(his travel is covered by a donor)while he left us out on the limb.[space]

I hope everyone realizes that this is a form of corruption. And I daresay that it is probably completely assur per halacha (not to mention possibly tax law in a number of ways as well).


Anonymous said...

Do women know when they take these jobs what the risks of nonpayment are? Do young women know when they decide to go into day school teaching and don't get a college degree and state teacher's license and therefore don't have the option of working in public schools that they are open to being taken advantage of because they don't have other options? (Yes, I know even public school teachers are getting laid off and nothing is a guarantee.)

zdfm said...

My husband was in a similar situation. He worked at a Jewish school teaching a class on Sundays, and half way through the year they told us that they were having a cash flow problem. The next month they paid us what they owed us, but two months later they told him that they couldn't offer the class more money. Of course we had a signed contract with them for the amount that they said that they would pay him at the beginning of the year.......but what can you do when there is no money left?

Al said...

I feel somewhat for the teachers... but not because they are unpaid, you work for a bankrupt small business, you go unpaid and look for new work.

I feel bad for them because they were sold on a path that is unsustainable. For a generation, young men were encouraged to become "learners" and be supported for several years, at the end of that process, they may (or may not) have a high school degree, probably no college degree (or a relatively worthless one), and possible semicha, a path to working as a Judaic teacher.

The women were encouraged to stay in the community if they want to be frum, and have at best a relatively worthless college degree (Touro's degree wasn't terribly valuable before the degree selling scandal).

So their parents sent them to day school/yeshiva, they did what they were "supposed to do," and now they are part of a massively oversupplied market for low pay.

It's not unprecedented, during the 90s boom we got a glut of IT people with now worthless certification, during the housing boom, plenty of realtors, mortgage brokers, and construction workers that now can't earn a solid living. These are all parts of the boom and bust of capitalism.

Unfortunately for our teachers, in addition to economic forces during the day school boom (we have been building/growing day schools for a growing population, that while still growing, can't support the schools and will need to see a contraction), which will leave them with decreasing earning power and large likelihood of unemployment.

A massive retraining of our population is in order to support themselves in this new economy, yet we are still churning out Rabbeim and Morot like its going out of style.

Best case, some enlightened leadership figures out how to get a teaching program for them that gets them SOME credit for their training/experience towards a Masters in education... public school teachers may be facing layoffs, but at least they'll have MORE employment opportunities, and presumably the public school system will recover faster than ours, because theirs is supported by the tax base (and the Fed is printing money for them), and ours is NOT taking steps to contain costs.

Many of our schools teetering on insolvency are going completely bankrupt by not making the cuts needed.

We have a HUGE structural problem, and the anti-charter school approach of the RCA is completely not helpful. We need to experiment, try things, and stop this one size fits all approach to Judaism that leaves us at the mercy of downturns like this.

We have WAY too many professional Rabbis, professional Rebbetzens, and professional Morot for the community to support. Some job skills retraining is necessary to get them off the community payroll (that's bouncing) and into the US economy before we have a lost generation.

Our bankrupt schools and their families needing more and more aid will create a lost generation if we can't get the families out.

aaron from L.A. said...

The answer is quite simple.No ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED INTO CHINUCH UNLESS HE OR SHE IS INDEPENDENTLY WEALTHY. Look at all the advantages of such a policy.(a) people will show derech eretz to teachers.After all,the wealthy get respect.(B)...Teachers will be able to tell the truth;no fears about keeping one's job if the chairman really does need to be told his kid is a an azus panim majoring in amharatzus(C)...if the paycheck is late,you can still live like a mensch(D)If the principal is a schmendrick,you can tell him so with conviction.

ProfK said...


In the interest of fairness and accuracy, a response to "The women were encouraged to stay in the community if they want to be frum, and have at best a relatively worthless college degree (Touro's degree wasn't terribly valuable before the degree selling scandal).
No, the frummer elements of the community didn't want the girls in coed schools and out of a frum environment, and so the community encouraged attendance, when they couldn't discourage it all together, at Touro. Now to the inaccuracies. There was no "scandal" at Touro. A small group of Russian workers at the college decided to sell degrees by tampering with the computer system at the college. It was not the college that did so. They were caught, they were fired, the degrees were rescinded by the school, and there weren't enough of them to warrant the word scandal. Touro fully cooperated with the authorities in seeing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Touro's degree is just as valuable as any other college that is under Middle States Certification. Is it tier one like Columbia? No, but then most of the colleges here in NYC aren't either. And in some areas Touro's degree has a stellar reputation. Our accounting students do extraordinarily well on the CPA exams because of their solid preparation. Our therapy majors have no problem in finding graduate programs to accept them or jobs in the field. Touro plays no part in the problem you started out discussing. They train their ed students to go for state certification, and yes, that means looking for jobs in the secular sector. They give the women something else to be doing other than teaching in yeshiva. Ditto for the men.

Halevai that yeshivas should be encouraging their bochrim to go to Touro and get a useful degree. Instead they fight even the idea of Touro, and they prepare the boys for a future in which only teaching in a yeshiva might be an option. It's a self-perpetuating disaster. On that I will agree with you.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: What type of therapy are you talking about? Physical therapy? Occupational therapy?

Dave said...

Touro's degree is just as valuable as any other college that is under Middle States Certification....

I have to disagree with this claim, or rather, with the form of it.

All schools under the same accrediting agency do not produce equally valuable degrees.

For that matter, as you pointed out, even within the same school, different degree programs hold different weight.

Anonymous said...

Putting aside the Trouro issue, both Al and ProfK raise excellent points. A community where everyone works in the schools/synagogues/yeshivas is a house of cards waiting to fall down. People need to be working in the broader u.s. economy (even with its current problems). There needs to be money coming into the community, not just going out. Yes, some stays in by paying teachers, rabbis, etc., but a lot also goes out.

Since this is an economics blog, the concept of diversity and not having all your eggs in one basket should be considered. Even if there are some CPA's and therapists coming out of Trouro, shouldn't a community have a wide range of occupations to be healthy and to weather economic shifts. Why aren't there more OJ physicians, nurses, chemical, mechanical and electrical engineers, architects, airline pilots, farmers, capenters, auto repair mechanics, plumbers, inventors, etc.?

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous-I've written quite a bit about Jewish businesses needing to break into new markets and diversify, rather than counting on a limited and small market.

I've also commented on the subject you address of limited career options. I agree with you completely.

I think the basket with far too many eggs in it is the Rabbinic fields, including morot. Right now there is a possibility of collapse of certain schools. I hope that those who aren't being paid and/or have the possibility of being laid off should be looking to get their credentials in order and putting out resumes.

rosie said...

I heard on the radio today that Obama wants to offer training in "green energy" to jobless autoworkers. I wonder if anyone can get this training. If the government sponsors it, hopefully it would open up possibilities for the Jewish jobless. There are probably also too many shochtim and sofrim as well. Everyone and his brother-in-law seems to get those real estate licenses and bochrim who don't want to sit and learn, rent apartments out on commission. I saw one Jewish guy get a truck driver's license and then he couldn't get a shomer Shabbos job. While we are at it, probably too many Jews learn to grade diamonds and other gem related vocations. I am not an Obama lover by any means but maybe his energy reduction stuff is the job of the future.

anon 2 said...

When push comes to shove a anonymous tip to the State Dept. of Labor would probably remedy the situation:
Yes, it's mesirah, but it's illegal to not pay your workers. Let me put it this was -- mesirah of criminals is halachically defensible or at least debatable. I don't know if any halachic defense for violating "lo talin peulas sachir".
In terms of chinuch: Would a yeshiva serve treif food in the cafeteria? Of course not. But they will server treif business ethics. As R' Breur z"l put it -- "glatt yosher, not just glatt kosher."

Mike S. said...

well, actually, not having any money is halachic justification for not paying workers. However, hiring them when you have no plan to have enough money to pay them is another matter entirely

DAG said...


While it MAY not be is not a Torah value. The prohobition from doing so appears in Parshas kedoshim!

Dave in DC said...

"I saw one Jewish guy get a truck driver's license and then he couldn't get a shomer Shabbos job."

This seems to be as good an explanation as any why we have the concentration of professions within the Jewish community that we see. (A friend joked that a Jewish Job Fair would have 6 booths: Doctor, Lawyer, OT, PT, ST, and Hocker.)

Suffice to say that breaking unfamiliar ground professionally requires a certain boldness in engaging with the world, trying to navigate the "modern" in Modern Orthodox. They often require flexibility in community location, negotiation in finding fair compromise around Shabbat and Chag observance, seeking alternatives to non-Kosher or non-halachic situations, etc. If you're unfamiliar with people who have walked that narrow and winding path, you're far more likely to stick with the comfortable known rather than the frightening unknown when choosing a field.

Zach Kessin said...

I think the basket with far too many eggs in it is the Rabbinic fields, including morot. Right now there is a possibility of collapse of certain schools. I hope that those who aren't being paid and/or have the possibility of being laid off should be looking to get their credentials in order and putting out resumes.I think its more that a possibility, I think its a virtual certainty that many schools will collapse. It seems to be that many of them have in truth been on the very edge of bankruptcy for years, if not flat out insolvent. Near as I can tell they are staying afloat by not paying the teachers and probably other bills.

The thing is that while many teachers may work without pay I don't think that the bank and the electric company will be so kind. Does anyone have any thoughts on what will happen with schools get the buildings foreclosed on?

Anonymous said...

Zach: you may unfortunately be right about some schools collapsing. The bigger question is what will happen to the students? Will other schools be able to absorb them or will they to to publinc school or the homeschooling route? If the problem (due to parental earnings levels and famiy size and not enough donors) is that there simply is not enought money to maintain even no frills schools with lean and efficient administration and larger class sizes, that is one thing. If the problem is mismanagement, then it is another. If it is a combination of both . . .

DAG said...

Al said...

Well, regarding being a trucker, I don't know about Teamster regulations, but the owner-operators (called "gypsies" derogatorily by Teamsters, make their own hours and are paid by the mile. Deliveries/Pickups are Monday-Friday, so whether you run your haul through the weekend, or stop in a truck stop for Shabbat and resume driving Saturday night and haul through Sunday is really none of their concern.

Working for a shipping company is going to depend, like the rest of the world, on presentation. "I don't work Saturdays" communicates "I don't work weekends" to people that work a Monday - Saturday business. My wife works in an accounting firm that has "mandatory" Saturday hours during tax season. When she interviewed she told them that she's an observant Jew and doesn't work Saturdays, but she works Sundays... nobody cared.

The law requires reasonable accommodation, a 6 day/week job will require working Sundays instead of Saturdays, and usually is reasonable. OTOH, showing up dressed like a Hassid gives them an invitation to discriminate, tucking your tzitzit in and putting on a trucker hat when meeting about a job goes a long way.

Regarding the schools... we need to accept that insolvent ones need to fail. Is the model completely "broken?" Probably, are some schools mismanaged more than others, absolutely. If we let the market handle it, the mismanaged ones will fail first, the best managed ones will probably survive. We probably won't be able to maintain a 90% Day School/Yeshiva enrollment rate, but maybe the market will support 50%... if we keep bailing out the mismanaged ones, we may find that we can't support more than 10% because the communal resources are being wiped out on the failures.

Giving a dollar to a mismanaged school that wastes 50% of the money means only helping with 50%. Letting them fail and give money to a well managed school that only wastes 10% not only keeps 40 cents in education, but lets the mismanaged one fail and their students move to better managed ones.

Regarding Touro... I understand that the degree selling was a small number of renegade employees. I've never heard of other schools having this problem, so either it's anti-semetic newsmedia, or something about Touro caused a lack of controls in the system that allowed this to go on. Either way, it casts a negative light on all Touro degrees and devalues them, that's how college degrees work.

I don't know the New York University world that well, but I'd imagine that Touro, as a private school, it is more expense that the state/city options. For New York residents, CUNY is $2000/semester, Touro is $5900/semester, is the Touro degree more valuable?

Last I looked, Yeshiva University was the bottom of the first tier, and Touro was unranked... not a ringing endorsement of the "premier" education environments for our private school educated children.

DAG said...

Touro is 3rd Tier

ProfK said...

Well, I have one reason for why some teachers don't quit when their paychecks are delayed. A friend I met today has a daughter teaching in a school that is behind on payment. However, they have kept up the payments for the health insurance plan they offer. Since the family is insured through this plan, the daughter isn't quitting. May not apply in all schools, but where it does it makes sense to stay put until you have another position.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-You make a good point, one I'm sorry I didn't think of.

I imagine this is one more area of great vulnerability for teachers as their husbands are often in kollel (no income or health plan) or are Rebbeim in the schools and probably don't want their wives making a huge stink because it reflects on them too.

Problems, problems. No great solutions. At least the school year is coming to a close.