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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Props to this School Board

This is quite the story. In a rather bold the Board of Directors of the Zvi Dov Roth Academy of Yeshiva Rambam in Flatbush decided to rent out the 1st floor of their building to the new Hebrew Language Charter School of Brooklyn. Why? No surprise, the school is in desperate financial straights and they need funds. In my book, "new money" (as opposed to grabbing a larger share of communal money through, often pricey, and time consuming fundraising) is a great way to go.

The school's move leaves the current tenant, Congregation Machzikei Torah, without a home. The vacate deadline has come and gone and should they still be there after the yomim tovim, the school plans to take the Rabbi and Congregation to court. The Rabbi is outraged saying "For over 60 years people have been putting together their pennies and dollars in order to have a place for children to study and learn Torah . But now Rambam is renting [its building] to this new charter school, which by law is not permitted to teach anything of faith. They took out the mezuzahs; they're going to have to take out my sifrei Torah." He also threatens to call the police if the school forces them out, but there is likely little legal ground to stand on. I think the best move would be to go quietly.

The Board President, who donates a huge $300,000 annually, replies, "If I have to choose to pull out a shul or [be forced] to let 110 children go to public school [as a result of Rambam folding], I will choose to pull out the shul."

I think it is no small miracle that the Hebrew Language Charter School ended up in this building after their previously planned location fell through. Not only with the children attending the Charter School be in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood, a Jewish school with have a real revenue stream to help support their costs. This seems like a win-win for all but the Rabbi and his congregation.

I have to hand it to this Board. Anyone who has ever engaged in communal work realizes that change is really difficult and painful because your hands and feet are tied by certain powers that be, by donors, by long standing contracts, and by whatever project is "untouchable." It sure isn't easy asking a shul to vacate, but when the president says it is the choice between educating these students and closing the school, I believe him. I'm just surprised that the powers that be looked the other way and/or approved renting out to a charter school.

Now let's hope that the Congregation decides to leave quietly.

Also, see comments on this story at YWN. Commentors mostly take the opposing view.

18 comments:

Fern Chasida said...

this isn't related to this post but no other way to contact you. i thought this article about public schools was interesting. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/07/chavis.education/index.html
it makes me wonder what he would say about private schools and amount spent per student. what do you think?

SephardiLady said...

Fern-Thank you for the link. BTW, you can always email me at orthonomics at gmail.

Relating to the subject of this article, my husband just pointed out an article on the per student spending of non-religious public school, or secular private schools. On average, spending is double that of public schools (I believe when you include the same measures) and this study is predicted to change the debate on school vouchers because those that would be helped by vouchers would be unlikely to pay for these private schools with the vouchers.

Thanks for the link. Glad there is an administrator out there who doesn't believe that the solution to the problem is to throw money at it. Joe Clark of Eastside in Philly (the movie Lean on Me is based on his book) is the story of pulling an inner city public school out of the dump by insisting on behavior and academic standards.

The book is one of my all time favorites.

Lion of Zion said...

FERN:

the $ per student is a bit misleading for a number of reasons, most importantly special education outliers. for example, the NYC DOE will spend $70 mil (!) over 5 years just to use a database to track special ed kids. it also spends many millions on pts/ots/sts for special and regular ed kids. many millions on seits and paras. many millions on transportation. many millions on textbooks, etc.
none of these costs are relevant to yeshivah budgets (at least in nyc). remove special ed and other costs so we can compare apples to apples and then the $ per student spending in public schools drops dramatically

SuperRaizy said...

With all due respect, I really don't agree with your positive take on this situation.
First of all, decisions at ZDR Academy are not made by a board of directors. They are made solely by Alex Rovt, who is the grandson of Zvi Dov Roth, whom the school is named after. And while it is admirable that Alex Rovt has kept the school afloat for years through generous donations, it is worth noting that ZDR has been mismanaged (both financially and educationally)for many years. Their financial crisis is nothing new.
Secondly, I disagree with you about kicking Machzikei Torah out of the building. The shul has been there for over thirty years and has always allowed the school to use the shul as an auditorium during the week. To suddenly evict a good tenant after thirty years is not right. Also, the contract with the charter school is only for three years. The charter school has said that renting at ZDR was "a last resort" that they are not happy about, and they plan to find new premises as soon as possible. What happens to ZDR's financial crush when the charter school leaves? ZDR will be left without any tenants at all for their first floor.

Anonymous said...

One of the questions I have is how much notice did the Shul get of the potential need to relocate, and whether it was given an opportunity to match the rent being offered by the charter school and some time to see if it could raise the amount needed to pay a higher rent.

SephardiLady said...

LOZ-Don't forget buses. Yes, per student public school spending when you back out a lot of things is not nearly as high as we want to believe.

I actually just looked up my own former school districts spending and it averages less than $7000 per student with the numbers published. That includes everything as far as I can tell. And my mother just told me the distrcit is laying off teachers.

SuperRaizy--Fair commentary.

ProfK said...

Thanks for the input Raizy. It points out that there is more than one side to a story, sometimes way more than two sides. If the charter school is looking to move out as soon as possible then what real benefit is there to the yeshiva? They will have alienated a long standing tenant and be left with no tenant and bad feelings all around.

I'm also puzzled by the statement that if the yeshiva closed down 110 kids would end up in public school. Say what? Sorry, but there are more than the two choices given. Unless Brooklyn has changed drastically from last night to this morning, there are dozens of other yeshivas around.

Would be nice if we had all the facts before deciding how to view this.

Lion of Zion said...

i'm not famliar with the the school to the extent that raizy is, but she brings up a good point about the short-term length of the contract.

the charter school had a lot of problems finding space. renting from dov roth was a last resort. this is not where they really wanted to be. nor is it where they will be able to stay long-term. iirc the charter school is starting now with 2 grades and will be adding more classes and grades each year. it won't be long before it grows large enough that it will have to leave dov roth. unless . . .
if it is really is privately run as raizy describes, perhaps the "board president" is setting it up so he will eventually sell the building to the charter school?

Lion of Zion said...

on the other hand, raizy is overlooking that the long-term prospects of the shul may not be so promising either and the yeshivah can't bank on it. (i've heard it's a very nice minyan, but someone last year told me that it had been petering out a bit)

in any case, all other things being equal, a school takes precedence over a shul. no contest.

PROFK:

"Unless Brooklyn has changed drastically from last night to this morning, there are dozens of other yeshivas around."

1) most brooklyn yeshivas would not even consider taking kids from zvi dov roth for frumkeit reasons

2) a lot of the parents can't afford (or would not be willing to pay) the tuition at the other local yeshivas.

considering 1 & 2, public school is not an unrealistic consideration for a lot the parents.

Lion of Zion said...

one more consideration: one concern with the charter school was whether or not the food would be kosher. most likely that is not a concern as long as they use zvi dov roth facilities.

Lion of Zion said...

sorry for the multiple comments, but following up on the previous comment . . . my son's best friends switched this year from their school to the charter school. the parents were sitting on the fence almost until the first day of school (which by the way was 1 & 1/2 weeks before yeshivas started). a big concern for them was the availability of kosher food. hearing that it would being zvi dov roth sealed the deal for them

conservative scfi said...

I think that it is important to distinguish between the real courage shown in trying to solve the schools problem and the question of whether the solution is the optimal choice.

In my opinion, the school board properly placed their responsibilities to their students above their fears of looking like bad guys to the community. The school board's first responsibility must be to maximize the student's educational opportunities, not provide space for a schul.

Either the shul has a very large minyan, in which case they should have been able to outbid the charter school, or they have a smaller minyan which can more comfortably fit in someone's house and don't need a large auditorium. (Or they could rent a public school auditorium for shabbat, and use a house for weekly minyanim).

Superraisy's point is about whether the decision is actually optimal. That argument is simply speculation, since maybe the schools will be able to coexist for the long term, particularly if a large fraction of the parent body wants a kosher kitchen for the charter school. Even if they can't work together after three years, there was no assurance given that the synagogue would continue to pay rent at that point. Further, by three years from now, perhaps the economy will have improved and the Zvi Dov Roth academy will have growing enrollments, maybe the school will shut down, or maybe a different tenant like a kosher restaurant will take the space.

The school made a choice and only time will tell if that choice is right. But as someone who never heard of the school before this post, I think they properly ordered their responsibility to the school above any responsibility they had to the synagogue tenant.

Anonymous said...

SuperRaizy - Secondly, I disagree with you about kicking Machzikei Torah out of the building. The shul has been there for over thirty years and has always allowed the school to use the shul as an auditorium during the week. To suddenly evict a good tenant after thirty years is not right. Also, the contract with the charter school is only for three years. The charter school has said that renting at ZDR was "a last resort" that they are not happy about, and they plan to find new premises as soon as possible. What happens to ZDR's financial crush when the charter school leaves? ZDR will be left without any tenants at all for their first floor.

How do you know the shul is a "good tenant"? If it were such a good tenant, why on earth would the owner of the building throw them out?

More than likely, as is often the case, with shuls that rent from schools, or schools that rent from shuls, the rent is much lower than a market level rent, and is often unpaid or paid very late. [Please note that I am *NOT* saying this is definitely the case here as I know nothing about it, I *AM* saying that this scenario is quite typical.]

And I agree with the previous commenter that perhaps the owner is thinking of eventually selling the building to the charter school (the city?).

Mark

SephardiLady said...

it is worth noting that ZDR has been mismanaged (both financially and educationally)for many years. Their financial crisis is nothing new.

Many organizations, if not most, have financial mistakes, sometimes really big financial mistakes. I think that ultimate survival will be based on what each organization decides to do going forward.

In my own mind, a 3 year contract buys the school time to make the other decisions they likely need to make. I wish I could buy some clients of mine some time.

SephardiLady said...

More than likely, as is often the case, with shuls that rent from schools, or schools that rent from shuls, the rent is much lower than a market level rent, and is often unpaid or paid very late. [Please note that I am *NOT* saying this is definitely the case here as I know nothing about it, I *AM* saying that this scenario is quite typical.]

Additionally, the school and shul might be looking to the same donors. An outside renter brings new money. "We" desperately need new money and/or money that does not come only from the tzedakah pocket.

Miami Al said...

Are we now okay with Squatters rights and stealing property because we are Jews. It's bad enough that there doesn't appear to be much of a positive correlation between Jewish observance and ethical behavior, but must it be so negative. The Rabbis in Deal, NJ didn't even cause anti-semetism, not because people are enlighted, but because Orthodox Jews being crooks and thugs isn't newsworthy anymore, it's Dog Bites Man, and that is REALLY tragic.

Anonymous said...

"And while it is admirable that Alex Rovt has kept the school afloat for years through generous donations, it is worth noting that ZDR has been mismanaged (both financially and educationally)for many years."

I heard he doesn't really give much to the school. You seem to be involved. Do you have any input?

SuperRaizy said...

Anonymous 9:17:
I used to work at ZDR. During the three years that I worked there, I saw numerous instances where Mr. Rovt made unilateral decisions that were not, in my opinion, wise decisions. (The "Board of Directors" at the time consisted of Mr. Rovt, his accountant/assistant, and his limo driver.)
I don't know how much money he has given to the school over the years, but I do know that he frequently states that he supports the school financially.