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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oy Vey: Beis Yaakov of Boro Park Slated to Close

Hat Tip: a reader (thanks)

I have to solve some financial issues today, as well as replace an appliance I've been thinking about replacing for 2 years now (yeah for furnish your dorms sales!), but it looks like there is a lot of blogging on deck as readers are sending articles like mad to my email box (thanks all!).

Today, a reader send me a link to this story. My reaction is practically adolescent because the abbreviation OMG flashed through my head, and I have never once sent a text, nor do I even recognize most of the text language out there beyond lol, and I'm certainly not lol'ing.

Boro Park Beis Yakov send out a letter to parents informing them that the school, the largest girls' school in Boro Park (perhaps the largest in Brooklyn, readers?) will not open in September. Of course they are seeking donations from the community in hopes of reopening. I don't know if this is one of the schools I've seen mentioned as being behind on paying teachers. I can only imagine that the board/administration decision was made out of desperation because plenty of schools have floated payments for months, and even years, on end.

I can't even imagine what parents, just 2 weeks away from the opening of school are thinking? What in the world happens when a school of this size announces they are closing? I can't imagine the clientele marching to the public school district office and enrolling their children. I hope parents will jump into gear, rather than just holding off for a miracle instead of concentrating on their children's education which must be a priority. If my own children's school announced it were closing today, I believe I'm not sure if we would try to get into another school or register with the school district to home school. Likely the majority of parents don't have the leverage and money to get their children into other school (after all, lack of tuition paying parents IS the root cause of closures). So, they have few options: fundraising, public school, or homeschooling. Fundraising isn't new in the frum world and obviously a wall has been hit. Public school is unlikely, even temporarily for this demographic. And, homeschooling would be beyond intimidating for the same demographic given the lack of familiarity and the unpreparedness, to say nothing of lack of know how and support. Oy vey!

The Jewish Observer, may it rest in peace, once wrote "Yeshivos have become very creative and entrepreneurial in finding ways to close their budget gaps" and "To an honest and realistic person, our school administrator knows his business very well. He has been successful in steering the ship through very choppy waters. This same executive director or administrator has become so talented at balancing the budget, his skills match those of any corporate CFO. The fact that he stays at the yeshiva is in itself real mesiras nefesh." I imagine "creative" accounting was used for many years. But, Virginia, "cash is king" and when you don't have it, it eventually catches up to you.

The letter sent out by the Beis Yakov blames the (potential) closing on the financial crisis. But, I personally cannot and will not place the blame on a downturn in the economy. I'm afraid the money management skills haven't matched the a corporate CFO. Many have been talking about the day when the frum community would hit a wall for years now! Many have decried the duplication of services, the growth of a near impossible infrastructure to support, etc. What do you think you get when you combine a growing infrastructure of non-profits + young marriage followed by kollel followed by late entrance into the marketplace + lack of eduction/vocation + a growing fertility rate + a ridiculously expensive 'lifestyle' from clothing to camp+ reliance on debt, parents, in-laws, relatives, and grandparents + underemployment combined with planned government dependency + a recession that has finally proved that credit does have a limit?

I don't quite know what to say about the potential closing beyond OMG. It is really scary, or as the reader who sent me the article said, it will be a tsunami if it closes. I do NOT want to see the infrastructure of day schools/yeshivas/beis yaakovs threatened, changed yes!, collapse no! If I didn't care, I would never have started this blog and dedicated so much time to trying to promote healthy money management from a grass roots level. I realize Boro Park isn't exactly my audience. But, I do have a good spectrum of readers, and I harbor no illusions that similar issues might be lurking in centrist and modern Orthodox schools too. So, I think we all need to be watching what happens there and begging our own schools to employ sound business practices (even if that means that not every single child can be provided with a comprehensive day school education. . . .the majority must goal. "No matter what your financial circumstances" simply is unsustainable).

More tuition blogging to come (unfortunately). Your thoughts.

P.S. The article notes that BY Boro Park receives some state funding. The Yated recently had an article on the tuition crisises that, after a lot of talking, concluded government funding was the only answer. There already is plenty of government money in the frum community and I pipe dreams won't take care of today's problems. Throwing up your hands and declaring there is only one answer, as the Yated did, isn't going to open up a school slated for closing.

34 comments:

Lion of Zion said...

"I do NOT want to see the infrastructure of day schools/yeshivas/beis yaakovs threatened, changed yes!, collapse no! "

why not? things will not change until new institutions are founded, and this will not happen until the current ones come tubmling down.
sad, but the communal infrastructure is too conservative to change from within.

SephardiLady said...

The same reason I don't want someone to hit rock bottom in their own finances or in their relationships. I'd rather action be taken earlier than later.

But, you might be right that rock bottom is the only way to promote change, in which case we can only blame ourselves for acting like ostriches.

BrooklynWolf said...

Of course, it's interesting that the Yated said that government funding is the only answer. The only answer, in their minds, is to not change ourselves at all but to rely further on those outside our community.

As an aside, this sort of answer will never fly in New York. The state constitution specifically prohibits public funding for religious schools (outside of transportation and inspection services).

The Wolf

Thinking said...

And once again the solution? More fundraising!
Why didn't they send home a letter that stated "We regret to inform you that due to the financial crisis we will only have 1 class for the 3rd grade. We will be combining 2 classes into 1. The class will have 50 students"? Because they don't have the guts to cut the staff themselves!

The only solution is pay up or we close down??? The creative CFO came up with this?

I work in corporate america, my CFO has never said to me "bring in more money or we close the whole place down!" We have definitely had budget cuts though.

This is the year of making do with what we have. That's the message the schools need to send home! If parents want more than the school can afford the let them pay for it or supplement it. You had better believe that schools are planning on sending home plenty of letters this year asking for money for every little thing, as teachers are told by the schools that there is no budget for it. I have no problem saying no.

Where I live all the schools are opening this year. How? I have no idea. But I am pretty sure at least 50% will threaten to close their doors at some point this year.

Anonymous said...

It won't help in the short-term, but I think SL nailed it that much larger changes are needed, including making sure that children come out of the system well-educated so they can get good jobs and/or go to college or trade school to be able to get decent jobs so that they can pay their children's tuition. A school system that discourages learning real world subjects and advanced secular education, as well as working for a living, is bound to implode. Harvard didn't build a huge endowment that allows it to give scholarships to most of its students by teaching its students to not enter the work force and instead to sit and learn more philosophy or music or art. It gave the students the tools to succeed and those alumni have been generous donors ever since, and can pay the tuition for their own children.

Anonymous said...

Thinking: YOur idea about 50 students in a class isn't so crazy. When my mother was in public school in NYC in the late 1920's and 1930's, there was a huge over-crowding problem due to all the immigrant's children. Schools doulbed up on class size and two children even had to share one desk. Some schools had split shifts with half the students going to school from 7-12 and half from 1-6. Amazingly, two nobel prize winners came out of her high school and a large number went on to college.

Thinking said...

Anonymous-

Thanks. Let me just add that this is not a Tuition Crisis. it is only called that because the schools got to it first. It is a Budget Crisis, which might lead to an Overcrowding Crisis or Other Crisis, but this is not about tuition. It is about managing with what you can get.

ProfK said...

There is another side to the BY announcement. Those girls that populate this huge school have, for the most part, brothers who also attend yeshiva. So we have to ask two questions now. 1)Are these same parents who aren't paying BY, resulting in financial disaster, also not paying their sons' tuition? If the answer is yes, expect to hear about some boys yeshivas that will not be opening. 2)Are some parents making a decision that, given the BY and given their sons' yeshivas, both with financial problems, they have in a sense "sacrificed" the girls' education in hopes that the boys yeshivas will do better? Are they channelling their scarce funds to the boys instead of the girls?

I would offer this. Years back Staten Island had a BY school, owned and run by the owners of the BY of Williamsburg. Rumors went flying in its last year that there was financial trouble, but no one in the school had an interest in opening up to the parent body and letting someone with better financial training take a look at the books and see what might be salvageable or not. Three weeks before school should have started the school sent out a letter that it was probably not opening in the fall. Did parents run to donate tons of money to the BY? Did they fundraise like crazy? Nope. They took their children and went to schools in two other boroughs and in New Jersey. They went to JFS locally. The time to have called on parents was well before that "we're closing" letter went out. Granted, we were a smaller school than BY of Boro Park, but the principle is the same. Just what is pouring more money into the BY going to get the parents (always assuming there IS more money)?

By the way, BY is not the first school to close up. Neve Yaakov in Israel (populated mostly by Americans) has already closed its doors.

Nigritude Ultramarine said...

My daughter's Bais Yaakov in Chicago may not open in the next few days. The school is $200K behind on the rent they pay for the land.

Joseph said...

I asked a old student of mine about the BYOB issue and this is what he wrote:

>I don't have any insider info, but I have heard rumors in the past year that they were undergoing financial difficulties. From what I understand it has nothing to do with the "growing infrastructure of non-profits + young marriage followed by kollel followed by late entrance into the marketplace + lack of eduction/vocation + a growing fertility rate + a ridiculously expensive 'lifestyle', etc.", rather it is the decline of an institution that never adapted to reality.

To put it simply, BY was always the 800 lb gorilla of girl schools. They were bigger than all the other schools combined, and didn't really need to offer much more then the fact that they were BY. About 15-20 years ago the chassidic community started opening girls shools, today most chassidic girls go to those schools. The litveshe crowd has, to a great extent, moved out of BP, going either to Flatbush or Lakewood. There are also a few 'elite' Bais Yaakovs opening up (BY of Bensonhurst, etc) competing for the better girls that may still have gone to BYOB (no, that's got nothing to do with beer). The current financial situation is just the cherry on top of the matza. I don't know if the BY board didn't see it coming, or didn't want to acknowledge the state of affairs. What can they do today? For a start, they need to compete, which they never did before. They need to offer something to counter one of the sides that are taking their girls, either chasidesh (probably the harder choice to compete with), or the elite. If they actually do a good enough job on the 'elite' side, they would draw a number of the chassidic girls as well.

Personally, I never cared for schools that grew so big that their students were second (or sometimes third, fourth, etc) to the institution itself, nevertheless, my mom a"h went to BYOB, so I guess it would bother me somewhat to see it go.<

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joseph. Good to know that there is no tuition problem and that the articles in the Jewish Week and Jewish Star this week about people pulling their kids out of day school and all the stories about schools not paying their teachers are just flukes. There may be things that hurt BYOB's enrollment or donations,but it's hard to believe that other schools and families are not vulnerable.

rosie said...

Someone who goes there just called me and said that the school is not closing but is in financial trouble.

ProfK said...

Not so sure that BY of BP is bleeding all that many students, at least if you look at enrollments that have been in place since 2007. The chassidishe schools were already big then, as were some of the other schools,so why a crisis 2-1/2 years later? Still think it comes down to money and money management.

Some school enrollment figures from the State Board of Ed. for 2008-09 (first number); 2007-08 (second number)
Khhd Yoel Of Satmar Bp: 3712/3494
United Talmudical Academy: 3263/2285
Beth Rachel School for Girls; 3369/3311
Bnos Chayil: 810/790
Beth Rivka: 912/910
Beth Rivka HS: 476/509
Beth Jacob High School:882/893
Bais Ruchel School of BP: 1673/1639
Beth Jacob of Boro Park: 1693/1722
Beth Jacob School for Girls: 820/834
Bnos Zion of Bobov: 1252/1307
Bais Sara school for Girls: 833/899

Anonymous said...

as a professional working in non-profits who has seen a number of floundering nonprofits and schools deal with finacial crisis in many ways, this sounds like a classic 'the sky is falling' letter in an attempt to raise funds. There obviously are issues as have been very well pointed out.

However, the bottom line is that-- by and large-- these type of fundraising appeals/scare tactics WORK in the SHORT TERM most of the time. Most are on a local level, so we may not hear about them...but, nationally, think about the ADL, for example (their 'scare letters' are not about institutional health but rather about anti-semitism).

Jeffrey said...

That BYOB is in financial trouble is not surprising, for all of the reasons expressed by all of the commentators. However, what I take away from this is that there are most likely many, many other schools that are also in financial distress to some degree or other.
BYOB might show the cracks sooner that your average modern orthodox school because of a higher percentage of the parent body with minimal resources. But the financial cracks are hardly limited to the yeshiva world. I can’t imagine that your average modern orthodox school isn’t having trouble---some parents have lost jobs and everyone has seen their investments drop in value.

Let’s hope some good comes out of this. I have a friend who lives in a large jewish community outside of NY. He’s told me that in previous years the local day school was extremely tight-fisted with scholarships, only granting breaks to the most extreme circumstances. This year, my friend says, there’s been an extraordinary change in school policy out of downright necessity, as the school was going to hermorrage students absent changes.

Note to SephardiLady: If there ever were a poster child school for the need of minimum tuitions, BYOB would be a good example.

HAGTBG said...

Can someone explain why the yeshiva's don't save on faculty by staggering classes, i.e. have one class have Jewish studies in the morning and one class have science. Then flip them in the afternoon. Even if you raised salary to double you'd save on benefits. I ask because by all accounts, salaries are generally the biggest of issues.

Yes I know thats not a BYOBP issue.

Eli said...

Nigritude Ultramarine:

Why don't you send to Hanna Sacks?!

SephardiLady said...

Jeffery-This is absolutely an example of why minimum tuitions are a MUST.

Joseph-You really don't make much sense to me. You indicate the school is very large, yet out of touch. If the enrollment has held on, collections and pricing is the issues, not marketing.

Anonymous-The only way I would donate to save an institution that has hit a wall would be if they were upfront about the past and annouced changes that would make this situation a thing of the past.

If the school does open, what happens in November? December? or March? Liquidity is key.

And, yes, plenty of Centrist and Modern Orthodox schools are in trouble too.

JS said...

Study links day school woes with weak boards

http://www.njjewishnews.com/njjn.com/071609/njStudylinks.html#sidebar

Avi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Avi said...

I think I understand what Joseph is saying - it really is a fundraising issue. The school was never designed to pay its bills via tuition, and relied on communal support. It allowed that communal support to dry up or move to other institutions; everyone who stopped giving simply assumed that BYOB had a broad funding base / was too big to fail. Turns out, not so much. So now it's trying a Going Out of Business sale. It'll probably work once (maybe twice), which could give it room to get its house in order and survive long term more on tuition income and less on donations. At least that's the hope. I don't know the school or its board, so I don't know if they're scared enough to take serious measures to solve the problem (less administration, longer teacher hours, lower salaries, minimum tuitions, bigger classes, maybe shrink and sell some assets) or if they're just going to keep operating as usual and threaten to close every year.

Miami Al said...

SL wrote, "You really don't make much sense to me. You indicate the school is very large, yet out of touch. If the enrollment has held on, collections and pricing is the issues, not marketing."

Well, in fairness, that is a sales and marketing program. The fact that they got bodies in there doesn't mean much. Clearly people weren't paying for those seats. Inability to attract customers that can pay for your product IS a marketing problem, filling it with non-paying customers so it looks busy is a marketing approach, but it isn't successful marketing.

Yeshivot that attract non-paying parents don't impress me, you have to actually attract people willing and able to pay for your product to be doing a good job.

Regarding "crisis fundraising," it works and it doesn't work. It works in politics (including the ADL), because you send out mass appeals for the $10-$100 crowd that "the sky is falling, anti-semites are attacking us, Pelosi is going to steal your doctor" or whatever the scare tactic of the week is. It's an effective way to make emotional appeals to the quasi-involved because they get agitated.

If you somehow had a list of Unaffiliated/Reform/Conservative Jews, a massive appeal to save the Jewish school, worded carefully, might work. They might want nothing to do with your school, but some percentage might be convinced that keeping some Charedi girls in isolation in Brooklyn so they can finish school and make more Jews might work... Solicit 1M Jews in NYC, get 1% (10k responses) at an average of $50, and you might bring in half a million with the scare tactic raise.

However, to your core donors, this is a stupid approach. The donor you are cultivated for a $100k/year endowing a position, building a gym, etc., wants to know that this is a well run organization that will do good work with his money. Unfortunately, these organizations don't know how to cultivate big philanthropists, so we sky-is-falling everyone.

They might get enough donations to survive the year with this, but they have permanently damaged their reputation to do it.

SephardiLady said...

Avi and Miami Al-Thanks for clarifying Joseph's statement. Absolutely true that some schools don't cultivate relationships.

But I think the problems I listed most certainly have to do with the situation we are in. You simply can't provide everyone an education regardless of cost especially when you create a society were earning is a second thought after establishing a family. Eventually the cash crunch arrives and you have too few parents paying too little tuition to support a school, even a no frills school.

Anonymous said...

This just smells rotten. What kind of board, and what kind of CFO, doesn't see this coming and plan for the future? The financial crisis in America, which has crippled funding for organizations across the board is nothing new. At my oldest's school (the younger ones are still at home), a year ago they cut teaching and office staff. They cut programs used by the least number of students. They cut employee tuition discounts. They set a minimum tuition rate (a low percentage of full tuition). And they are not giving out more scholarships dollars than are in the scholarship fund. These are all common-sense, doable things that any school could do. Combined together, they put our school on a firmer financial footing. As the economy recovers and fewer people need scholarships and more philanthropic giving comes in, it's easy to reverse or tweak the changes to fit new circumstances.

Anonymous said...

SL - Absolutely true that some schools don't cultivate relationships.

I know of at least one school that doesn't even have a proper list of alumni!!!

Mark

SephardiLady said...

Make that two. My husband's pricy HS just contacted him for the first time after a volunteer put together an incomplete list of names. Let's just say it hasn't been quite yet 20 years.

Incredible! This school has a development office and a business office. So basic and completely ignored. I had a post on this in the past.

SephardiLady said...

Additionally, when we moved I was hoping his grad school that sends tons of solicitations would lose our address. Let's just say they found us.

Charlie Hall said...

"BY is not the first school to close up"

Beth Jacob Beth Miriam School in the Bronx closed a year ago.

Charlie Hall said...

ProfK's list of school sizes is fascinating, showing that it *is* possible to have a large Jewish school and take advantage of the huge economies of scale. Bronx High School of Science has 2800 students and Brooklyn Tech 4400; they give a first class education for a cost of about $14K/year.

Ariella said...

Yet another girls' school threatened with closure! We don't usually hear about boys' yeshivas closing even though, I would think that yeshivas have higher operating costs because rebbes are paid far more than morahs. Do boys' schools receive more donations than girls' schools?

On the comment just above , I would venture that the tuition at this school was below $14K.

ProfK said...

Ariella,
Welcome to under the table sexism in the frum communities. Change the school that is not going to open to one of the Ocean Parkway boys yeshivas. Do you suppose the reactions would be the same? I don't. By now you would have had a whole slew of big name rabbis utilizing every kind of advertising and promotion media to get the word out that, c'v, Yeshiva X cannot be allowed to close down. Appeals would be showing up in shuls everywhere that a musmach or musmachim of that yeshiva live, and a lot where they don't. So why is the BY story so low key? Why isn't it on the tip of everyone's tongue?

I asked a question above that applies to your comment. If the parents of the BY students can't pay enough tuition to keep the school afloat, what is happening to the schools their sons go to? Shouldn't the same financial crisis be happening to them? After all, the parents aren't paying. Or are they? Or are they paying more to the boys' yeshivas than to the girls'?

We need to broaden our questions of what is happening to the money that schools get--or don't get. Not enough to see openess on the part of one school--we need to be able to compare all schools.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-We might see closures of boys schools yet. But certainly you ask good questions.

I can think of at least one OOT boys yeshiva that closed due to funding.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the boys schools attract more donors.

MiMedinat HaYam said...

HAGTBG said...
Can someone explain why the yeshiva's don't save on faculty by staggering classes, i.e. have one class have Jewish studies in the morning and one class have science. Then flip them in the afternoon. Even if you raised salary to double you'd save on benefits. I ask because by all accounts, salaries are generally the biggest of issues.

Yes I know thats not a BYOBP issue.



the reason why they would NEVER dare do that is due to a supposed historic anomaly that is not even true, to wit, that the volozhin yeshiva closed because the russian govt required to teach their students heresy -- russian language (and mathematics, not algebra, but plain math).

the truth is, is that the russian govt required them to teach russian and math in the morning. so there is an opposition to switching to morning secular classes.

as for comments regarding the board, there is NO board at that particular (and most other charedi) institutions. or rather, nothing more than a formal board, that acquieses completely to the word of the "administrator" / "dean", whether such person is qualified or not. or rather , the qualification is that he is the founder of the institution, (or son of the founder) and is thus entitled to be the leader of the institution (together with his unquestioned salary) (although in fairness, he is usually the chief fundraiser, too, so that he may be entitled to be unquestioned leader (and unquestioned salary) )