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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Two More School Closings

There is something terribly sad about schools closing so close to the upcoming school year. My heart goes out to the parents and student who must now regroup so unexpectedly.

Bat Torah Girls High School of New Jersey announced they will not be reopening their doors this fall. As per the article, the scales were tipped when a few students moved schools.

The Twin Cities Chabad boys high school that reported financial troubles, one issue being that not one student paid full tuition. The school just announced that they will not be reopening in September, but they are planning a campaign with hopes to reopen in 2012. This past school year, there was only one student paying the full fare of $19K, which includes room and board.

There isn't much economic commentary to offer that hasn't already been offered. Smaller schools are particularly vulnerable to even the loss of a few students. The institution(s) in smaller communities are particularly vulnerable as a whole to losing even a few students.

35 comments:

anon426 said...

I feel for those parents. It's a bit close to the start of the school year to announce a school closing.

Imagine how that one full-tuition-paying parent feels to find out s/he was the only one! $19k is pretty outrageous.

Avi said...

Anon426,

$19K for high school, including room and board, is hardly outrageous, at least by NY area standards.

I'm still trying to understand why Bat Torah had such low enrollment, given its subsidized tuition. The article suggests that not enough cool kids went there ("classes had ranged from 10 to 15 students over the past few years, with an incoming class that was “closer to 20,” but a few 11th-graders dropped out “very recently,” and that “tips the scale.... She suggested that students switch schools for social and not educational reasons."). Unless she's wrong, it seems that social reasons trump dramatically lower tuition. I know that high school girls are clique-y, but in this economic environment that sort of blows my mind.

JS said...

Avi,

Assuming the academics are roughly equal, my only guess is that the kids who switched got good scholarships at the higher-priced schools so it was basically a wash for the parents.

That said, it doesn't surprise me in the least that parents would lay out more money to be in the social "in" crowd. These parents are making those decisions every day with the shul dues they pay, yeshiva tuition they pay, camp fees they pay, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, etc.

tesyaa said...

Avi and JS, WADR I don't see how the academics can be equal in a school with 30 students (spread across 4 grades) and a school with 300 students.

At the high school level, one's academic experience is affected by one's peers - even when the curriculum and staff quality are identical. More students = more diversity = more perspectives.

Also, how many AP and honors classes can such a small school offer? If you want to take physics as a senior, will the school be able to hire an instructor for a class of one?

I understand that it's a vicious cycle, and top students avoid a tiny school because it's tiny, and it becomes tinier. It's sad, but it's not the first time I've seen a tiny school fail to thrive.

We have to admit that perception does matter, and that does not make people horrible, just human.

If it's a question of money, I'll repeat that people should consider public school rather than a "cheap" yeshiva that still costs $10,000 per year and does not have the academic offerings a larger school offers. Why is the most problematic yeshiva considered a superior choice to any public school? I understand this is our cultural way, but that doesn't mean it makes sense.

Observer said...

Bais Yaakov of Baltimore charges $10,000 for high school and it is overflowing with students, more in their graduating classes each year. When I graduated many years ago, we had 22 girls in our graduating class - say, we had 120 girls from 7th to 12th grade. How did the school survive? On the idealism of parents, teachers and administrators. On siyata dishmaya with a great deal of elbow grease. We learned to type on ancient manual typewriters; we learned to sew on 1920's Singers. We had one class for each grade and it was geared to the medium, not the intellectual extremes. We had no extras. Our plays were put on in a shul in a decrepit neighborhood with homemade scenery painted by a student who had artistic talent. Our shows were naturally, fabulous - a highlight of my education, far outweighing calculus. But our little school somehow kept chugging along on "I think I can, I think I can." I read you all and your cynicism is so blatant - people do things for prestige, make school changes to be in the "right crowd". If people have no ideals, they will have no morale; if they have no morale, they will have no incentive to role up their sleeves and put in the effort to make something work. When I think of the parents who volunteered after a full day of work or business to raise money for our little school! Well, the school today rests on the shoulders of many past parents with integrity. Where are the parents of integrity today? Certainly not in the MO world, sorry but true.

Anonymous said...

Baltimore had a school close this year too (Rambam). Yes, a new version opened almost immediately but it still cost good people their jobs, disrupted families, and caused great concrn for the older students. The cause: mismanagement of communal funds and a lack of seata dishmaya.

It's time for all our community schools to adopt transparecy and "open the books" to professional auditors. There is just too much money being unaccountable to allow such practices to continue.

Mark said...

Observer - When I think of the parents who volunteered after a full day of work or business to raise money for our little school! Well, the school today rests on the shoulders of many past parents with integrity. Where are the parents of integrity today? Certainly not in the MO world, sorry but true.

Yeah. Sorry. We'll have to remember this next time you "people of integrity" come to our MO world "to raise money".

I hate to break it to you, but integrity also includes paying your own way and not schnorring constantly for the things you want (like a $10,000 education for your kids).

Baltyid said...

Anonymous @ August 04, 2011 10:22 PM: Baltimore did lose one school this year but is apparently gaining two for 11-12.
(1)Ohr Chadash Academy
(2)Baltimore Torah School
Both schools are starting on a fresh footing and hopefully have learned from Rambam's mismanagement.

anon426 said...

When a school has such small enrollment the loss of a small handful is felt very keenly.

As to why the enrollment was so small, doesn't it say this Chabad HS is in the Twin Cities? I'm surprised the Twin Cities is able to support any school. How many frum people are even in Minnesota?

btw I live in Baltimore and never heard of the Baltimore Torah School. What is it?

Anonymous said...

A tiny school can't survive. Period.
Unless there's one person who donates a couple of million dollars to get it started and it grows.
As SL said, if a small school loses (not looses) a few students, it is dead.
That said, where are rabbonim demanding that schools open their books? Why are rich people not demanding that schools open the books or get no donations? How can for-profit schools dare to collect money?

Yeshiva Facts said...

Like many here, I couldn't fathom why a school like Bat Torah which was so significantly cheaper than the alternatives and ostensibly provided the same but likely more modest education, couldn't survive.  I've spoken to many people affiliated with the school and who have sent to the school and there is clearly not one answer.  I've heard questions raised about leadership, the diversity of the programs, social pressure to go elsewhere and clearly uprooting a school from one location and replanting in new community must have an impact.  However, the most insightful, but somewhat controversial, answer I received was that 'people just don't buy cheap'.  The person who told me this went on to explain that there is a desire for a low cost school but not if it means a perception of sacrifice or not getting the best for your child.  You can be low cost but you need to dress it up.  He even mentioned that there were those that counseled Bat Torah to raise tuition and thereby attract more students.  

This seems the most credible (albeit disturbing) answer to what happened with Bat Torah.  When I've spoken with people and we discuss tuition and use words like 'crisis' you have to believe that any low cost alternative would be overwhelmed with applicants.  But when you ask them why they don't send to a school like Bat Torah (or YNJ or JFS or Chabad) they struggle to come up with a good answer.  I mean, realistically, what person in their right mind would complain that they don't have enough money to cloth their children but then turn away a donation of clothing because it is not a name brand?  Someone handed the community a low cost school on a platter and the community looked the other way.  People just don't buy cheap - no matter how bad their finances are.

Baltyid said...

Baltimore Torah School

http://baltimore-torah.org/MissionStatement.html

Orthonomics said...

I have loose fingers when typing o's and lose my spelling in the process. :(

D said...

Observer,
No need to pinpoint criticisms on MO alone. We all have things to work on.

Mark,
Take it easy on the synat chinam.
Your generalization of the haredi world is innacurate and disrespectful.

Shabbat Shalom!

Orthonomics said...

Let's take it easy on the blame! There is plenty to go around. The important thing is to recognize the economics for what they are. Small schools can't and shouldn't operate on the model of larger schools.

Anonymous said...

One unfortunate reality is that when parents sense that their kids’ school is in trouble they will pull their kids out, and further weaken whatever is left. Ultimately, there will be a snowball effect. I don’t know much about Bat Torah, but it seems to have once been a good single-gender non-BY girls high school. For whatever reason, many college-educated parents today are enamored by the “BY” brand and those types of schools are favored over one that is more "open". It is only in a select number of geographic areas that the numbers are there to support a school in that niche. I presume that the presence of strong schools in Maayanot and Bruriah in the general vicinity haave had the advantage. BT used to be in Monsey, where the market for that type of school no longer exists.

As for BY of Baltimore, for better or worse, the powers that be have ensured that it has had a monopoly over the years. Alternatives which have been attempted, considered to be “lite” versions of BY don’t get that support, as they are not considered frum enough. Plus they do not obtain traction from parents whose mindset is not BY and don't want to take a chance on a start-up. So, the kids and families sort of settle and go through the motions until graduation, often underachieving.

As for the $10k tuition, that is a misnomer. That might seem low by NY standards, as people from NY think that it is a bargain and presume that most parents are paying that retail tuition. Empirically, that is not the case, as probably 70%+ of kids are on some level of scholarship. So, it’s not like there is near 100% compliance with actually paying what might be considered cut-rate tuition (which has been proposed as a model elsewhere). Other factors such as large class sizes and low teacher wages are likely playing a role in being able to maintain that seemingly low number.

Shoshana Z. said...

The Chabad yeshivah was populated mostly by out of town students. I doubt there was ever any belief that the population would come primarily from Minnesota.

Observer said...

Bais Yaakov of Baltimore does no MO fundraising, Mark. You are mistaken. They rely largely on the chareidi community which is far larger than the MO. What bothers me is no one has time to pursue fundraising because they are all too busy.

Observer said...

Anonymous, the philosophy of the school is epitomized for me in the BY website. If you'll notice, it is bare bones information and there is a legend that states it was designed by a BY student. There is a beautiful mosaic in the lobby of the school - with the coordination of an adult, every mosaic tile was placed on the mural by a student in a very carefully organized project. My niece showed me "her" mosaic. BY has a bare bones, do it yourself mentality that would not be acceptable in Silver Spring or Bergen County. BY is frugal. But I hope not with teacher's salaries, as a relative is a rebbe at one of the "right wing" schools.

Anonymous said...

My daughter almost went to BT last year. I found them extremely unpleasant (i.e. not mentslich) to deal with in terms of applying for a scholarship and finally walked away.

AztecQueen2000 said...

If a school gets too small, would it be possible to combine classes (e.g. have one teacher and classroom for both second and third grade)? Or what about a one-room schoolhouse model? Why does every school, regardless of enrollment, need separate classes and two teachers per grade?

Anonymous said...

Yes, BY of Baltimore was a monopoly. But now has some competition from the Bnos Yisroel school.
None of the Baltimore "community" schools have a transparency policy on finances, board membership, rampant nepotism in hiring, or generl operations. Yes, tuitions are low by NY standards but so are teacher salaries for the mostly female staff. The yeshivas could never get away with paying a Rebbe what BY pays its Morahs.

The recent Mir Rosh Hayeshvia fund raising campaign in Baltimore netted almost $300K and that alone is a message to the non-transparency schools- the message is - "we do not trust you!"

Mark said...

Observer - Bais Yaakov of Baltimore does no MO fundraising, Mark. You are mistaken.

Here's a direct quote from http://www.associated.org (Federation in Baltimore) -

"Council on Jewish Day School Education
FY 2011 - $3,100,000
FY 2012 - $3,100,000
The Council on Jewish Day School Education makes per capita grant allocations to the following schools: Bais
HaMedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Day School,
Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Bnos Yisroel School for Girls, Krieger Schechter Day School, Ner Israel
Rabbinical College, Shoshana Cardin Community Day School, Talmudical Academy, and Torah Institute."

Shavuah Tov all.

Mark said...

D - Take it easy on the synat chinam.
Your generalization of the haredi world is innacurate and disrespectful.


Sure. Saying "pay your own way is part of integrity" is sinat chinam. But saying there are no "parents of integrity" in the MO world (generalizing) is fine in your book.

tesyaa said...

AztecQueen, most tiny schools already use combined grades, and many of them are still struggling.

Orthonomics said...

I don't know too many schools with combined grades! I did read somewhere that there is a renewed interest in public education in the one room school model.

Anonymous said...

My daughter attended a school that used a combined grade model. When it was the 2nd and 3rd grade, she was in the third grade. Then it was 3rd and 4th combined. She was in the fourth grade. It was awful, we pulled our daughter after that. She was not being challenged and the teacher was reading easy picture books to the class. They even did an entire unit on a writer who wrote only children's picture books! When I realized what was happening I pulled my daughter for the next year and sent her to a school that was considerably further away and more expensive. But she had a choice of friends and loved the second school. We never looked back!
No I would not advocate the" integrated" or combined grade model in elementary school. And in response to people who wonder why an inexpensive school did not succeed- cost means something but- it is not the only thing. After all, if cost was THE deciding factor- public school is FREE.

AriSparkles said...

I feel bad for that one family paying full tuition. I would be so steamed.

D said...

Mark,

Your anger won't make things better.

There are problems on both camps and focusing on the problems of the other one or standing up for the "honor" of your camp is both childish and counter productive.

I wish you all the best. I really do.

Anonymous said...

With the stock market falling dramatically over the past few days will there be more school closings this year?

Anonymous said...

Only if the schools are stupid enough to invest their funds in the stock market. Most schols do not have such extra funds, but the Madoff story told us that some do, and they were losers.

Fund raising is hard, and will be even harder now. That is where the schools need to focus and do a hard look at their budgets.

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Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Orthonomics, I could find an email address for you. Please see Rav Teitz's article on Text and Texture.

http://text.rcarabbis.org/why-does-it-cost-so-much-to-education-a-jewish-child-by-eliyahu-teitz/

Miami Al said...

Anyone else notice that the author begs the question?

The "problems" exist in cloistered RW communities AND centrist communities, therefore how much worse would it be if public school were considered.

He's assuming the conclusion, not demonstrating it.

If the problem is comparable in RW and Centrist communities, then insularity is a failed solution. If it is less in TW communities, than insularity is a partial solution.

If the problems in the RW and Centrist communities are less than in the non-Orthodox Jewish communities, than Jewish schooling is a partial solution, if they are the same, then it is a non-solution.

If, hypothetically, you stopped being Frum tomorrow, you'd become a secular Jew. Your "differential" in comparing your children should be secular Jews of similar socio-economic background. Comparing your children to the children of the urban poor minorities is NOT a fair control group when attempting to evaluate communal decisions.

Given the utter LACK of published facts and the hand wringing about needing to do "more" because insularity and private schooling isn't doing enough, it is increasingly clear that this is a red herring, and the benefits claimed by the supporters of universal day school are at LEAST overstated and possibly non-existent. The total lack of data supporting claims about frumkeit retention is equally disturbing.

Miami Al said...

None of that denigrates the value of a Day School education. However, the "all communal funds go to Day Schools" is predicated on Day Schools being the lynchpin of Orthodox Cultural Survival. If that is NOT the case, then Day School goes back to a luxury, a luxury that parents put a premium on, but a luxury, and those unwilling to sacrifice for it don't get it.