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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why Does it Cost So Much to Educate a Jewish Child?

Hat Tip goes to the first read who pointed this out in the comments of the previous post. Thank you R. Mordechai Scher. There were many more who emailed me privately. Thank you to all. Clearly this article is making the rounds.

So, "Why Does it Cost So Much to Educate a Jewish Child?" Rabbi Teitz offers an eye-opening analysis, and an analysis that leaves me to conclude that cost cutting simply isn't going to come from above.

First, the "kitzur" of the article about what costs drive school budgets, and then some of my own thoughts (and your comments):

Staffing and Salaries are the majority of the budget. Educators make a school. Salaries are set by the market and schools compete with each other for top staff, staff driving costs upwards. Cost cutting in this area will drive great educators from the field. Talented educators will choose other fields. If key staff is not maintained, parents to take their dollars elsewhere. Even where population fluctuates, staffing needs maintained for the most part to offer a consistent product. Cutting class size will impact instruction. How significant the impact would be depends on the teacher and students. Cut class size and parents might leave. Where genders are separated, the population might not be big enough to increase class size anyways. Very few school run at capacity as it is. There is a point where annual increases aren't reasonable. Limudei kodesh teachers are reaching that level. There are some unrealistic expectations of remuneration when it comes to administrative salaries.

Special Education Special education basically didn't exist 40 years ago. Now we educate children with special needs and it costs a lot of money. JEC spends nearly $1.5 million, 12% of the budget, on "resource room" alone.

Social Workers Forty years ago there were no social workers, today the author's school has 3 plus other guidance staff. Can this be cut? No. There are too many culture influences kids are being bombarded with. ("And this is why public school simply can not be an option.")

Extras The challenge every school has it determining what is a need and what is nice to have. The philosophy is that we want each student to feel good about coming to school. We could save money on sports, music, and art. But the budget wouldn't be cut significantly and it would make a lot of students miserable. Perhaps these students will act out. Excursions could be dropped, but students look back at those fondly.

Technology Listed as needs are computers in every classroom. They don't need to be the latest, but they do need to be up-to-date. Parents see the increased technology as a need at this point, and parental expectation drives costs.

Competition Schools need to offer what other schools do or they will lose students. Reducing student population means increased tuition for the remaining families. You can't win this one. Some might argue that creating a nurturing environment should be the purview of shuls, not schools. This would only transfer costs.

Administration The author won't say that some layers of administration aren't necessary, but argues there is more need than people will admit. His argument is that if a principal of a 400 student school were to give each student 5 minutes of time a week, this would consist of 33 hrs and 20 min, or nearly a full time job, hence the greater need for administration.

Kodesh For schools that only teach limudei kodesh in the morning, the challenge becomes how to offer a full-time job if the teacher cannot cross the divide into chol, and most cannot. The same challenge is not shared on the limudei chol side as public school teachers and administrators (!) look to supplement their income. To attract quality teachers for a half-day work, "full-time jobs must be created for them. And from that necessity was born the coordinator. Not an administrator, but something beyond just the classroom instructor; more pay, but not at an admiration's level. And hiring one person to do the myriad of tasks of the coordinators won't really be that much less expensive, plus it would not address the attraction and retention issue." The Rabbi does leave open a possibility of cost cutting here, as he states that when budgets are tight, mid-level jobs have to be redistributed and positions eliminated.

My thoughts (excuse me as I reminisce out loud while offering some thoughts):

The Rabbi's article was not a brainstorm about how to cut costs, but rather what schools are spending on ("why it costs so much"), and how competition plays a large part in determining what money is spent on. Reading in between the lines, the brainstorm is depressing. A demanding parent body in an out-of-pocket education system transforms us into our own worst enemies. Rationality, as Rabbi Scher point out in the article's comments, is not at play here. (With all the ills of a bloated public education system, it seems there is more promise there to control costs). Add that to the admission that jobs were "created" and I'm not sure we can actually lower costs much. We all know that it is far easier to hire than fire, and that once an expense is deemed necessary, cutting back is near impossible.

What the article really is, to me, is a study in how education has changed. I'm not convinced the product is better for all the changes.

I wish I knew what Jewish education looked like before social workers and resource rooms. I'm guessing it looked a lot like my elementary school. There we had 1 principal, a gentle, but firm man named Mr. G. . . . . As I recall, there was a secretary in the administrative area (maybe 2), as well as the school nurse. Come to think about it, in the 3 years I was at that school, I probably only visited the administrative area 5-6 times, mostly to see the school nurse. My recollection of education back in the day was that administration pushed papers and reviewed staff. I recall the principal spending a morning in my classroom each year. I don't believe that principals were expected to interact with each students, certainly not 5 minutes a week, nor were they expected to be hooked up to their blackberries texting with parents! On the contrary, being called into the principals office was scary, and you simply didn't see the principal much.

I recall being called into the principal's office in the 1st grade. Boy, was I scared. The call followed a lunchroom altercation. I was shaking in my fake Keds when I arrived. The visit was short and sweet. Mr. G said to me, "You aren't in trouble. So don't be scared." He then let me know that R was sent home for the day, this wouldn't happen again, and that the nurse would help me wash and dry my shirt so I could wear clean clothing. Thank G-d for fast drying polyester blends. I was back in my panda bear sweatshirt with purple sleeves in no time.

We didn't have social workers in every school to deal with R's problems. There were school psychologists, shared across the district, but none dedicated to any one school. What we did have was p'ed off parents (excuse my language), i.e. parents whose schedules were disruptive to deal with their unruly child, or take a child home midday. I don't want to glorify what was, because there was plenty of bad behavior to go around. But I do think there is a break down in authority and I also believe few kids today get knots in their stomach thinking of what will happen if Dad finds out.

I wonder if administrator duties have changed in public schools today. Today (private Jewish), I see the principal meeting and greeting parents and students in carpool line. And I do believe the students have quite a bit of interaction with the principal (I can't quite recall ever meeting with the principal in the other elementary school I attended). In Yeshiva high schools, I know administrators also teach classes and students spend quite a bit of time with them as there is a more "open door" policy.

Other things we didn't have in elementary school: regular phys ed, art, or music (except for 5th grade band which was totally optional and I'd say about half the class didn't participate. . . I was a non-participant as my parents thought I was better off concentrating on the extracurricular I had already committed too and didn't want me pulled out of class. When band was an elective class, I was allowed to join). I recall a shared P.E. teacher visiting a few times in upper elementary. It wasn't particularly enjoyable. Instead of hitting the soccer field or jumping rope, we had to play organized volleyball. I was about 3 feet too short for that and my serve hit the net if I was lucky. We didn't get much exercise just standing there. There was a shared choir teacher who came around the holidays (I asked to be excused). There was a shared art teacher who came around from time to time. I have no particular recollection pleasant or unpleasant. For the most part, teachers enriched according to their interests. I could have done without one interest. On the other hand, one teacher taught us double-dutch during recess.

One comment (highlighted above, and quoted here in full) really stands out to me. Not for what it says, but for what it doesn't say: "And even those families who are firmly committed to Jewish education still need their children in a nurturing Jewish environment, inside and outside of school. One could argue that this should be the purview of the shuls and not the schools. True enough, but it would only transfer the cost." [Warning: about to step into seriously politically incorrect territory] The expectation is that children must be fully nurtured by the community. Hence the growing demand for social workers, programming, etc. What about transferring some of the responsibility to parents? I guess that boat has sailed. After all, when tuition bills reach into the five, and even six, figures, parents have to outsource these things and schools need to compete. And after paying tuition, there isn't much energy, time, or money left for outside enrichment.

As for the increase in special education services, this is a very touchy area. Over the years, I've read letters from parents that are accusatory in nature. I've never touched the subject here because it is like a hot potato. I feel for parents who are have children that with greater needs, but I simply don't see how private school can accommodate all needs out there with their current resources. It is quite possible too much has been bitten off as it is (see the note about 12% of the budget on resource room alone). There is something unpleasant about being told "we" aren't doing enough, when things are what they are.

In the comments, Rabbi Berger makes a very provoking comment on special education: "Next, speaking as a father who spent years paying for Bridge Classes for a number of children, as well as a child who has Downs…. There is Special Ed and Special Ed. It’s one thing to provide yeshiva education for children who are labeled things like ADD, ADHD, dyslexic… these are critical members of society who the next generation cannot function without. There is also Special Ed like my son with Downs requires. Is his daily yeshiva a communal need or a want? From a straight and admittedly brutal triage perspective, will we pay for one special child to get a basic Jewish education or take that money to pay for over a dozen mainstream or several learning-disabled children? An adult with Downs is not likely to head off the derekh just because his Jewish education is in Sunday School or an after-school program. Real cost cutting will require making those hard decisions, and our unwillingness to face them makes it impossible to make ends meet.."

I will leave my thoughts at that. Personally I'm not convinced smaller classes, more competitive pay, and more everything has created a more enviable product. But, so long as others think it has, the cycle will continue.

This is far too lengthy and I need to get to work to pay tuition :)


Anonymous said...

Computers in every classroom? Smart boards? Nonsense. I say this as a professional physicist. Computers in the classroom are pretty much useless from an educational standpoint and detrimental in many ways. Should computers be available in school libraries if possible? Sure. Education in computer skills? Probably a good idea, particularly if not every family is expected to have a computer.

Alexis said...

I think there's a minimum to which technology can be cut without leaving students unprepared for further education. Many will go into environments where the other students will have gone to schools where technology was utilized extensively; it's one thing to be a little behind, another to be at a serious disadvantage. You do need computers in school and you need to teach kids how to use them.

I think "specials" such as art, music, and PE are really not what's driving expenses and are good for students. Even if you go to the trouble of hiring a full time teacher for these subjects (really only feasible in larger schools) it's not a huge amount spread over all the kids. Unless schools are overinvesting in facilities, providing an art class once a week is not a budget buster--and given levels of physical fitness these days and the length of the yeshiva day, PE is probably the last non-academic thing we should cut. (And I say this as someone who loathed it.)

MO schools do deal with the scheduling/utilization problem: they don't have all the kids doing kodesh in the AM. So the teachers are all doing a FT job for a FT salary. Of course, said FT salary is generally higher than in a BY/yeshiva... and less in-demand subjects at HS level will always demand PT teachers paid by the course (for example, I know schools that offer AP psychology; no one's ever going to have 5 classes of that, so one teacher may be employed PT by 3 different schools).

Special ed is a huge, huge problem. It's a touchy subject, because it covers such a huge spectrum--you wind up with the problem of kids who will be mainstreamed or part mainstreamed in public school. Do we accommodate those kids or not? Where do we draw the line on kids we can help, and ones whose needs are too complex and need the resources only public (or specialized private) school can provide? I don't know the answer. I still know many parents of special needs children who had to go outside the yeshiva system, and yet the choice of programs in that system is wider than ever. There's also a wider culture of getting kids all the help we can, which transfers into the yeshiva environment. But there are programs costing $40-50K a year. This is not sustainable, IMO. The "solution" in the NY/NJ area is to get the state to pay a large chunk of the costs, and it's become easier to do thanks to court decisions--but I have a lot of unease about it.

OTOH, I think it's too easy to romanticize the "good old days" of no social workers, no psychologists, and no special ed. I think perhaps we have gone to the other extreme, but the old way failed a lot of children.

JS said...

First of all, very good summary of the article.

This article drove me up the wall, it is maddeningly frustrating to read. It's a laundry list of every single thing that drives up costs in the schools along with a shrug of the shoulders that this cost can't be cut and that expense can't be lowered.

Some of the cost drivers I just find infuriating. He admits full time salaries are simply given over to rabbis for doing part time work. Some rabbis make even more than this by being coordinators. In other words, for part time work you get a full time salary, for full time work you get a full time salary plus a bump. Then you have the layers of administrators who apparently are paid to micromanage. The 5 minute per student argument is absurd. The top people deal with big picture issues, you don't have the CEO standing at the company's elevator bank greeting each employee in the morning. Teachers should be worrying about each student and bringing specific issues to the administrator. The entire organizational infrastructure is upside down.

There also seems to be a vicious cycle of school charges more, parents demand more, school answers demands, school charges more, etc. This is just sad. If it's really true that parents simply don't care to save money, then fine, carry on. But, I keep hearing complaints about tuition. Maybe parents are just complainers and would rather have more services provided than more money in their pockets. If that's not true though, the schools should be cutting/reorganizing services and educating their parents about how much money these cuts will save them.

As much as the parents want everything, the schools want to be everything for everybody. Find an area to excel in and focus on that. There's just no mission statement, no sense of purpose beyond "Be the best in everything for everyone!" All that does is increase costs.

The technology in the classroom is such a waste of money. Smartboards? Explain to me how this is better than a simple chalkboard. Show me the qualitative and/or quantitative difference it makes. The kids learn math better? Unless the kids are learning computer programming on those computers it's a waste. In an MO school every kid has a computer at home. They know how to type and do word processing. They probably know more than the teachers. To have 200 computers and 2 full-time IT people with a backup server, etc. is a huge waste of money.

Another problem with the article and every article I've seen from rabbis and administrators is they entirely focus on the Judaic/religious aspect of the school as if half the school day (and it's teachers, subject matter, quality, etc.) doesn't even matter. That's beyond disturbing; especially from an MO school. All the cost cutting also is on the secular side. Fire secular teachers and bring in Internet learning is the new mantra. The Judaics/religious side is such a good ol' boys club. God forbid the guy you went to sleepaway camp who is now a rebbe take a paycut or get fired. God forbid the guy who was your chavruta in Israel work a full day to earn his paycheck instead of just mornings.

Finally, for all these extra costs, I see no better quality of education. The kids who graduate from my alma mater go on to the same high schools and colleges I did, they get the same jobs, same percentage is religious. The kids are the same vilda chayas in school, still can't speak or understand Hebrew, still repeat the same midrashes and rashis, etc. But, we all feel better about ourselves, so that's something.

Also, I love this age-old canard:
"But people who choose to go into teaching and who will be really qualified are also probably qualified to go into many other professions. And they will not choose education if the compensation isn’t reasonable."

rejewvenator said...

I said it there and I'll say it here. If 75-80% of your expenses are compensation, you CAN'T bring costs down substantially without dealing with compensation.

Either staff needs to be paid less, or teachers need to teach more students. Simple. You can do it on the internet, of raise the ratio of students to teachers in live classes.

So here's the question: let's say a school doubled the ratio so that there were 30ish kids in a class, instead of 15ish, and tuition went down by 25%. Would you send your kids there?

Alexis said...

25, yes. 30 is getting tight in terms of what your typical teacher can handle. (I went to public school and depending on the grade and class, we had anywhere from 20-30; there was a noticeable difference at the top end of the range. I did not go to a rough school and I was in honors classes, so class control should have been towards the easier end of the scale.) Of course, with everyone wanting their own schools where everyone is exactly their hashkafa and separate classes and and... good luck getting enough kids to achieve a class of 25, much less 30. I would certainly prefer a larger class to using virtual education a la K12--there's a reason I choose to send to school rather than homeschool. (I would also send to public school before I homeschooled.)

I do think that personnel costs are the issue, but I am not sure how we can reduce them substantially. Do we really want to say to teachers that they should work for the love of it, and forget being able to live in a frum community (much less the community they teach in, much less pay tuition at the schools in which they work)?

I think that ultimately, the answer is that providing private school education costs money, and the current model is simply not realistic. Either we need another source of funding, or we need to abandon the idea of universal yeshiva education from preK to 12. We can't make it free. Even if we lowered costs from $20K to $12K, it would still be an enormous burden on families.

JS said...

I said it above, but if the parents are truly driving costs and refuse to compromise on anything, then let them figure out how to pay the ever-increasing tuition. If they care so much about minor hashkafa or smartboards or single-gender classes or whatever, then let them put their money where their mouths are.

I agree with you that I do NOT want Internet learning. I wouldn't let my kid be a guinea pig for the schools trying to figure out how to save money. I care a lot more about my kids' secular education than religious. And let me be clear on that point, I want my kids to be religious, I want them to follow normative halacha, etc. but I don't see that as the same as having a religious education. I can teach my kids all about davening and the holidays and Shabbat and kashrut - they learn that at home. In school they learn rashis and mishnas, and gemara. You don't REALLY need that to be frum. Maybe it makes you more well-rounded and more scholarly (doubtful, as I barely remember anything I learned K-12). The point being, let my kids learn some rashis and mishnas and such through the Internet. If they can't remember the gemara "me'amatai korin at shma b'arvin" (When may you start saying shma at night), they can pull up the shul's calendar and look up the time themselves. If they can't read, don't know history, math, or science...that's another matter.

I'd really like to see what the teacher's salaries are. Every teacher I know says the salary and benefits stink. And these are MO teachers. So, either they're all lying or the schools have so many teachers that in the aggregate it's the vast majority of the budget. I suspect most teachers get shafted while a select few are very well compensated (including administrators).

I don't see what's so bad about not being compensated well in a field you really want to be and enjoy. Who's forcing you to enter a low-compensation field? The people I know that teach either really, really love it and couldn't imagine doing anything else despite the low compensation and other problems or simply fell into it. I know social workers who had to get expensive masters degrees and they earn around $30k. There are more lucrative options out there, but people don't always choose professions based on compensation. Shockingly, some people would rather do something they love.

suzanne said...

In response to the question about teacher salaries in yeshivas: The typical salary for a whole-morning kodesh or whole-afternoon chol teacher is about $20,000/yr, in my experience. Full-day teachers are obviously paid more. In MO schools, full-day teachers are sought-after because the school can pay 1 full-day teacher less than 2 half-day teachers. However, in many more right-wing schools, full-day teachers are rare because LK teachers must have the right pedigree (ie, they must have been educated by the same school system that they teach in so the hashkafot match perfectly), and secular ed teachers must usually be drawn from a different pool. (This is a discussion in and of itself). One extra point about half-day teaching: Teachers are expected to complete so much work outside the classroom (mark, assign grades, create lesson plans, plan curricula, meet with parents, meet with students, meet with teachers and administrators, buy classroom materials, set up and even clean classrooms, extra-curricular activities, and more) that half a day in the classroom becomes a full day of work in total.

Mike S. said...

You have to remember that the parent body has a range of opinions as to what they are willing to pay for. If you have larger classes, you can cut down on costs, but only if you don't cause a noticeable fraction of your families to leave. Same thing for reducing the range of class offerings. I once took an informal poll of the parents in my kids' grades. (about 12 years ago when tuition was less than half the current price) Most (about 60%) would have preferred to get rid of "extras" for a 20% reduction in tuition. But when it came to defining "extras" there was nothing that more than about 20% could agree was an "extra". It's kind of like the polls where "Congress" as a whole gets 15% approval but most voters approve of their own Representative. The fact is there are plenty of parents who were willing to pay for smaller classes, special ed, extracurriculars, field trips, the security guards that I thought were kind of silly, and only a small number who would volunteer to pick up the functions of the business office in exchange for lowered tuition. While parents in the abstract favor reduced tuition over "extras:", all those extras seem to be there because a lot of parents want them.

In areas with multiple schools, the schools do seem to respond to market signals. Even if those signals aren't the ones you prefer.

I sugggest you try asking the parents who are grousing about tuition whether they would be willing to increase class size 50% for 25% lower tuition and see how many are. Then ask how many would be willing to volunteer 5 hours a week to replace the business office in exchange for whatever fraction of the budget that would free up (Figure it takes about two hours of volunteer time for 1 hour of someone who works full time to cover for the fact that volunteers don't know the job as well and don't show up all the time) Find two or three other "extras" in your school and see what fraction of the parents you talk to want to get rid of them in exchange for a realistically lowered tuition. (no, getting rid of the art teacher won't save 20% of the budget)

Mike S. said...

On further read, I realize, I wasn't entirely clear above. Each of my proposed "extras" had a number of parents willing, nay eager, to do without it it for reduced tuition. But each also had plenty of parents that considered it vital.

One other point. A school is a buisness with high fixed costs and low marginal costs. The economics of such businesses almoist always leads to some decisions that seem idiotic at first glance. (Think airlines charging more to fly from A to B than A through B to C)

Anonymous said...

The school's tuition CAN cover costs, including staffing, ASSUMING the tuition is collected. It is not. If you have 25 kids at 10K a pop, that's 250K. Pay two teachers each 25K, you've got 200K left. Use 100K for the share of the principal, office staff, etc. costs, you've still got 100K left to pay for rent/mortgage, paper, electricity, janitors, and insurance...But in a class of 25 kids, I bet you have 10 kids paying 10K, 10 kids paying 6K, and five kids paying 1K or nothing. That gives you a total of about 160K, and as soon as you pay the two teachers, you've got a little over 100K to cover everything else instead of 200K. It is simple math.

happy said...

What can be cut from the school budget:
1. in elementary school, once kids have been taught to daven, have rotating parents supervise group davening for a large group of kids with one teacher to handle problems or discipline. this cuts teachers' work hours and salary.
2. NO DAMN YEARBOOKS! Take pictures of the kids, type up some memories, stick it in a photo album, the end. My elementary school charged $100 per child and we fund-raised all year to cover the rest instead of using ticket money from the school play for the school.
3. teach regular teachers to incorporate art and music and cut those teachers out.
and many more ideas....

tesyaa said...

While I don't agree with how Rabbi Teitz argues that all extras are necessary and all salaries have to be high, and I don't agree that separate classes and morning limudai kodesh are more important than an affordable product, I think the tone of the criticism is too negative.

As other commenters have noted, the increase in services is mostly consumer driven. The market has spoken that as a whole, it wants yeshivot to have bells and whistles (and some of the "extras" are not extra at all, but are standard in public schools). If the market demanded a cheap, no-frills yeshiva, such a product would exist already.

All arguments for affordable schools are based on the idea that yeshiva is a necessity. This is blatantly untrue. The government offers a (mostly) decent education for no additional cost to the consumer, in the form of public schooling. There are plenty of rebbes and morot available for after-school tutoring.

If the product (religious private schooling) is unaffordable, please consider a cheaper alternative. This is not to say that today's yeshivot are efficiently run, but until a cheaper product is available, consume what you can afford.

tesyaa said...

Also, yeshiva tuition isn't high because of kids with Down Syndrome (who almost always attend non-sectarian programs). The kids with dyslexia who (according to Rabbi Berger) need Jewish education because they will be functioning members of society are the biggest clients of yeshiva resource room. Kids with major needs like Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy are irrelevant to the cost of yeshiva tuition, because almost none of them attend mainstream yeshivas at all.

tesyaa said...

But I do think there is a break down in authority and I also believe few kids today get knots in their stomach thinking of what will happen if Dad finds out.

Do you really think so? I don't see this, and I'm older than you so I can remember back a decade farther than you. This may be the case in the frum world, where parents have many children and don't have the time or patience to deal with so many kids.

In the non-frum world, I don't necessarily agree. In disadvantaged communities things are as bad as ever. But there were plenty of spoiled rich (non-frum and frum) kids around when I was growing up.

JS said...


I'm kind of torn between whether parents actually want all these extras (and therefore the schools are just meeting a demand) or whether the schools just think the parents want them and are meeting a demand that doesn't exist. I think what Mike S. said above is most likely true - you have coalitions of substantial minorities that actively demand certain extras. I think most of these extras are really necessities (e.g., you need a school psychologist, you need a resource room). The real extras likely don't add all that much to the overall tuition (having art, music, or sports teams).

The real issue I have is with the admission that the schools pay, at least rabbis, full-time salaries for part-time work. And the backwards thinking that it is an administrator's job to think about and deal with every student in the entire school for at least 5 minutes a week. It demonstrates the schools are mostly employment agencies for Yeshiva University and other rabbi mills. It's just a good ol' boys club which rewards those with the right connections. Further, the schools simply don't understand how to run an organization. There aren't proper hierarchical roles and management. There is literally millions be wasted on this kind of inefficiency. A school with 12 administrators each earning over 6 figures is alone spending over $1.5M at least on those 12 employees. If half your staff is being paid full-time salary for part-time work there's several hundreds of thousands more wasted.

So, the kids want field trips and plays and color wars (sounds like camp to me, but what do I know?) - fine. That maybe adds $500 tops to each kid's tuition. But all the real inefficiencies likely add several thousand to the bill. Yeshiva is another word for private school. It will never be cheap, but it doesn't HAVE to be so expensive. The schools just don't care - it's more about providing gainful employment for your friends and colleagues than saving the parents money - after all, anyone who can't afford it gets a scholarship, so what's the problem?

I'll just add that I really don't buy all this talk about needing to pay teachers/rabbis so much to retain the best and the brightest. In my 13 years in yeshiva K-12 I really only had a handful of truly great teachers who were worth their weight in gold. The vast majority were merely OK. Another handful were horrific. You want to pay the very best a lot, I support that. But it seems everyone is perceived as being "amazing" and compensated accordingly.

Finally, no idea how this talk of compensation jives with the comment above about $20k starting salaries. Something's amiss.

tesyaa said...

But it seems everyone is perceived as being "amazing" and compensated accordingly.

Lake Wobegon lives...

Miami Al said...

JS, Tesyaa,

There is no group called "parents." At the main school in Miami Beach, the parent body includes:

Traditional Jewish families with 1-2 kids in the school, they usually pay full tuition, sending the kids from K-5 or K-8. These parents pay their bill in full, never ask for anything, and generally leave when their child's Rebbe starts pushing the kid to harass the family to be more religious OR when they start getting harassed because they pick their kid up in gym clothes one time when they are running late. These families support a huge portion of the budget, but since they don't live in the Frum community, nobody pays attention to them.

The "chump" type families, 2-4 children, dual income, struggling to get by despite high incomes. They don't ask for anything, they mostly struggle to manage child care and careers around the constant stream of half days. They aren't demanding extras, they are trying not to bounce tuition checks. A few of these families are the "struggling" class where they make slightly less and get SOME tuition assistance, but otherwise look like the "chump" class.

Those groups comprise the bulk of the tuition revenue, a LOT of the families, and NONE of the cost drivers.

The socialites -- these are "wealthier" families, though here it isn't rich hedge fund guys, it's some real estate, it's some well paid medical specialties where they had kids "late" (a specialist surgeon with first child at age 35 or 37 is in a totally different income bracket than if fist kid came at 23 - 25). The wives tend to "volunteer" where volunteering is showing up and harassing the business office about whatever their pet issue is. These families tend to "give more" in donations, but not a huge sum, and these are the BIG drivers of expensive extras. With their donations, they pay as much as they would to prep school, so they want prep school amenities (here the price difference is about 25%, in North Jersey, it looks like 50%). This group probably drives costs more than they contribute, but since they are machers, they are listened to.

The "beggar" class. This is the group where the women "work" in the school in make shift jobs to get tuition breaks, but you can't rely on them because they don't show up regularly. They pay "what they can" when the husband is working, which is infrequent.

Because they are at the school all day, they drop in to talk to administrators about their kids. They are involved in everything, eating up administrator time. They use up tremendous amounts of labor being accommodated. Since they are there, they "help out" stuffing envelopes or whatever because they are there, and therefore are seen as "big contributors."

That last group is a BIG driver of costs, even if people don't notice. If you bumped class sizes up 2/class and held tuition, your strugglers/chumps would go back to work and not notice. Your socialites would grumble about how much they give to the school, and the "beggars" would basically disrupt the classes until it was changed.

Most of the "beggars" know to cover their hair at the school, even if their kids watch television all day Shabbat. They are seen as "frummer" than the chumps, and therefore listened to as well.

That was my observation as to who demanded more services.

tesyaa said...

Al, I hate to use the term "beggar class" because it sounds disparaging, and therefore those using the term can be dismissed as unempathetic or unfeeling. However, what you describe is very common in NJ. Most of those in this group are actually the frummest people in the school; their husbands are rebbes (not necessarily in the same school), and they have lots of children, so naturally cannot afford tuition. Since they are frummer than the average parent body, and have more children, they feel entitled to special treatment for all they are doing for klal yisroel by teaching Torah and having so many Jewish children.

Many are baalai tshuva or grew up MO, and sincerely bought into the koolaid that having lots of kids and being in klai kodesh makes them special. I think it's wonderful that they are so sincere, but no so wonderful how they expect others to underwrite their holy lifestyle.

tesyaa said...

Al, as has been pointed out before, all classes of parents make demands, but because their needs are different, their demands are different. This gets us to the point where no one can decide which is an extra and which is a necessity.

To the frum-but-poor "beggars" (hate the name, but OK), changing limudai kodesh to the afternoon for half the school is religiously unacceptable. So is the idea of coed classes, even in the younger grades.

To the socialites, lack of smartboards would be big problem.

Chumps claim they want no frills, but as educated professionals, they would start to complain (I hope) if secular academic standards were compromised (while the "beggars" wouldn't care much since limudai kodesh is their priority).

I am NOT in favor of homogeneous schools, but it sure makes it harder to accomodate everyone when multimillionaires' kids are educated in the same classroom as WIC families.

JS said...

I agree with tesyaa that each group of parents has different demands. I think the big mistake the schools make is only listening to the demands that increase costs instead of demands that would lower it. For example, the school is much more likely to listen to those that insist on gender separation and limudei kodesh only in the mornings. You could have 20% asking for gender separation and LK in the mornings and 20% asking for the opposite, but the former will be listened to. It's ironic since it's likely the latter that will be footing that bill.

I do disagree on the emphasis "chumps" (those with high earning career(s) that pay full tuition and still struggle with expenses) place on secular studied. I've been appalled that no one seems to blink when all the proposals for reducing tuition stem from cost reductions on the secular side. It seems the chumps would rather try experimental educational models for secular education than the same approach for limudei kodesh. They'd rather have larger class sizes for math and science than larger class sizes for gemara and chumash. They care much more about having rebbe role models (who are well compensated) than having PhD or masters level math and English teachers.

For the life of me, I don't understand this.

Paying Parent said...

One of my biggest issues with the post was the whole "creating full time jobs for Rebbes." Rabbi Teitz claims that the school needs to give the Rebbes full time positions in order to attract top talent, but then also states that the Rebbes that they are hiring are incapable of teaching 1st grade English. Are they top talent or not? At least for the younger grades, a good teacher is a good teacher. If they can teach chmuash, navi and gemara well, then surely they can teach English. Unless, of course, they don't know how to read and write English on a first grade level, and then how can they possibly be "top talent?"

JS said...

The most obvious solution would be to insist any new rabbi that is hired must be able to teach a dual curriculum. Don't want to teach a dual curriculum, you get paid on a part-time basis based on number of hours in the classroom. They already do this with public school teachers who moonlight in the afternoons. "Top talent" should mean something more than a friendly guy who can give a halfway decent shiur. Word will quickly get around that if you want to become a rabbi and earn a decent living you have to be able to teach a secular subject. The serious candidates will take education classes and subject-matter courses. YU and similar institutions will change their programs.

But, like I already said, the schools don't want to do this. They're employment agencies and good ol' boy clubs. All this gets masked in some rhetoric about limudei kodesh being so important and treating rabbis with the proper dignity and respect they deserve (which doesn't apply to math and history teachers for some reason).

Hayyim said...

The piece that bothers me most is the workfare-ness of the whole thing. At the end of the day, I'm paying to educate my children in a manner that is actually worse than what they could get for free. The supposed bonus - Jewish Education.

Unfortunately the quality of the secular education is horrid. Worse, I'm paying for it to be this way.

AztecQueen2000 said...

It's basic economics--supply and demand. So long as there is a steady SUPPLY of students and a DEMAND that they be given a yeshiva education, all of this will continue. Yeshivas have no incentive to change how they run things because they don't have to. However, if more families "voted with their feet," I'm sure we would see some cost-tightening measures. If more parents investigated public schools, charters, and even co-op homeschooling, they could give themselves options.

Miami Al said...


The worst part is, the crabs in the bucket don't even realize that they are pulling people down.

Every family that shows up to Shul and sends their kids to a public school or other alternative is pressure on the Yeshiva to be more cost effective. Even for families that would NEVER consider an alternatively, they are benefited by people that choose other options.

By disparaging those families, attacking them, and basically trying to run them out of the Orthodox world -- intentionally or not -- you weaken the substitution effect and make your day school experience more expensive.

As this post points out, inadvertently, is that tuition is set to whatever the school can extract, and the schools are profit maximizing institutions, and the profits are channeled to Rebbes to overpay them to give them full time pay for part time work.

aaron from L.A. said...

The real answer is for parents to make more money.And there are so many ways to do this,that it just boggles the mind. For example, women could make extra cash selling shaitels or left-over cholent door to door.... Men coming home from work can find a job at a nearby gas station. And for the really enterprising, try working at a medical school as a cadaver.People with special God-given gifts,such as the ability to wiggle their ears or touch their nose with their tongue, could share their talents in subway stations or on street corners.At the very least, they could entertain at annual yeshiva dinners in exchange for a break on their kids' tuition. Kids,themselves, could make money from other kids by eating weird things on an "I dare you " basis.Heck,give a kid $100 and 60 days,and he'll eat your old garden hose.
Now for some serious talk.Diaspora life is slowly(maybe not that slowly,either) but surely falling apart.Could it be that someone up there is trying to send us a message?

tesyaa said...

And life in Israel is not falling apart? Have you seen the protests there? How long do you think the working people who go to the army will be willing and/or able to support the chareidim who don't work and don't serve?

But tuition is cheaper.

Anonymous said...

Check it out! Will change the face of Yeshiva education. You should do a post on it.

Observer said...

I'm appalled that the yeshivas need to create "make work" for rebbeim rather than have them teach a full day. This "coordinator" business doesn't sit right with me. It's lacking in yashrut all right. In TA in Baltimore, rebbeim teach a full day, one grade in morning, another grade in afternoon. It has always been that way. What's with the rebbeim only being needed for half a day yet being paid for a full day for goldbricking? My family member is a rebbe at TA Baltimore and he has always worked an honest full day for minimal pay, supplemented by tutoring and bar mitzvah teaching - he works at night to be able to survive. As his son once said, "I only see my father in shul on Shabbos."

Why can't schools in the posh NY suburbs copy the plebian Baltimore model, where limudei kodesh and secular are going on all day, on a schedule that lets rebbeim receive a full day's work? This is simply wrong, to charge parents high tuition for rebbeim who are only working half a day.

I also find the computers and smart boards to be one of the excesses that posh suburbs "need" and flyover cities such as Cincinnati and Cleveland don't.

You can pick up the computer on your own. You don't need any special training. A teacher who can't teach without a computer can't teach. And this is all to impress the parents? Who are these parents who need to be impressed?

How lovely to live in Baltimore or Cincinnati, where such luxuries are seen for what they are, gashmius without purpose.

JRKmommy said...

As others have noted, the most glaring point for me was this need to make work for PT teachers. Have odd-numbered grades do Judaic studies in the morning, even-numbered grades do it in the afternoon. Problem solved.

How large is a school that needs THREE social workers? What on earth are they doing? Are there other community resources that are available for counselling? Finally - has anyone really looked at the factors that REALLY get kids in trouble or keep them out of it?

I disagree with the notion that all special ed is an extra. I'm happy and relieved that my son's school was able to give him the extra reading boost help that he needed in grade 1, so he's now reading at grade level. The notion that the community will turn its back on its children if they don't fit the mold or have any special needs makes it sound like they are disposable. Instead, I'd suggest looking at ways to make maximum use of government funding, and even looking at forms of enhanced supplemental Jewish education designed for special needs students in public schools.

EDT said...

I would like to clarify a point that was misunderstood in my article. I do not propose that any teacher get paid for work not done. My comment about teachers approaching $100,000 dealt with teachers who either teach a complete day, which means from 8:00 through to 5:30 PM with only a lunch break, or teachers who also have other school responsibilities.

Paying a half-day teacher close to $100,000 is unconscionable.

Anonymous said...

Even for a full time teacher,$100,000 seems high and above market, particularly for someone who probably works less than 180 days a year. There may be some public schools in NJ that reach that pay scale, but in most communities only a very few teachers will ever make close to that, and then those are usually those with advanced degrees and 25 years of experience. Where I live, $100,000 is more like what a superintendant in charge of an entire school district who works year round and has a doctorate in education or Phd earns.

EDT said...

The teachers I had in mind each have 20+ years of experience. Also remember, that a teacher's day does not end at 5:30. That's the end of the easy part of the day. There are still preparations for class for the next days, assessments to create, to make sure they are fair, and to grade. Communication with parents and students also takes place out of school. While the teacher might only work 180 days, the hours per day are considerably longer than most people calculate.

EDT said...

JRK - 820 students, two campuses, three social workers, one full-time, the others part-time (two full-time equivalents). No down time for any of them.

Hardly excessive.

As for flipping schedules, parents carry considerable weight in these decisions. It is a change in philosophy for many of them, not simply a scheduling consideration. If the change would translate into 20% of the school leaving, it leaves little choice but to keep things in place.

JRKmommy said...

Would the Jewish community ever unite behind a proposal to use public school resources, such as this:

I see it as the only logical way to ensure that Jewish education remains accessible for the middle-class, and to ensure that Jewish education doesn't become something that only the Orthodox or wealthy do.

In Toronto, where school receive no public funding, 1 in 3 Jewish students attends a day school. In Montreal, where secular studies are funded, 2 in 3 Jewish students attend a day school. It's realistic to conclude that a proposal like this could double enrollment.

Observer said...

About flipping schedules, parents carrying a lot of weight - this sounds like a straw man argument. If you tell parents that full efficient use of resources will result in a tuition reduction of 20%, parents' objections to schedule (whatever they may be) will magically disappear, except for a few professional malcontents.

EDTeitz said...

Observer - in an area where there are other options, quite a few parents, not just the malcontents, will vote with their feet. And for a school that is on an exceptionally tight budget, those families might be the difference between staying open and closing down.

It's not as simple as it looks.

JS said...

Rabbi Teitz,

Thank you for taking the time out of schedule to respond to our comments.

Could you comment on two points:

1) What is a typical salary for a teacher who teaches only limudei kodesh or only limudei chol? I find it hard to understand how salary and benefits are 75-80% of a school's budget when all of the teachers I know seem to be earning woefully low salaries. Could you provide further clarification on this point?

2) Why are schools always in such a precarious financial situation? It seems this is true even in good economic times. I have to assume there are some very intelligent business people drawing up the budgets and projections. So, what exactly is it about a yeshiva that makes it always exist on a razor's edge?

FedMan said...

Frankly, until our schools really comply with financial transparency I will always wonder "where does the money go." Yes, we care all honest Yidden, but then why the fear of open financial accountability? Makes one wonder!!

Mark said...

EDT 6:52 - If the change would translate into 20% of the school leaving, it leaves little choice but to keep things in place.

Unless all the schools make the same change (to save the entire community some money).

Jose said...

Flipping Kodesh and Secular or combining classes is not just an issue of 20% of the parent body. The moment anything like that is proposed, there will be cries of Daas Torah, and a venerable Godol from another city will be quoted as saying it's assur, and that the shlumpfs doing the work to keep the school open don't have the right to decide what kind of floor wax to buy without asking a shaila. So the expensive demands of the group of parents that by and large isn't paying for them are presented as non-negotiably from Hashem. Difficult to argue with that.

Ultimately, the situation won't change until the Gedolim decide it must and push forward a solution. Unfortunately, it appears there's no hope of that happening.

Another thing not stated explicitly, but alluded to, is that Rebbeim make double what Moros make.

Orthonomics said...

Rabbi Teitz,

I'm uncertain why some of your posts aren't getting posted through blogger. I just wanted to say something that is hopefully informative. One of the things I do, from time to time, is create readable financial reports. One thing that is helpful to ensure that the reports are more readable when it comes to things like fundraising, is to match the event against its costs, so the bottom line of that event is quickly realized without a calculator and extra reading. In fact, this is the way a 990 reads for such events. Therefore, script purchase income and expense lines would be matched and the bottom line (not including overhead) would be presented to the board (and public).

It isn't uncommon, from my estimation, for boards to see less detailed reports than the business office sees, so that they can deal with the numbers. If I were presenting to parents, I would present in a different fashion than to the CPA. Yes, the bottom line would be the same, but the presentation might be a bit different.

Just my 2 cents as I see you value transparency.

etz chaim hee said...

Dear EDT,

I am not sure I understand your comment on teachers receiving $100,000 per must be referring to NY City Public school teachers...likewise, with the 20 plus years experience...Teacher turn over rate is extremely high in Yeshivot.
I am married to a Yeshiva teacher, who is in her 4th year, and she makes a little over $20k/year BEFORE TAXES, TRANSPORTATION, AND HEALTH PLAN COSTS. To note: she knows as a fact that she is one of the better paid teachers at her school. She has been at the school longer than most of the non-limudei kodesh teachers at the school. In the summer the school tends to get behind on paying wages, not to mention during the year.
She has friends who also Yeshivah teachers, and I have a close neighbor who is also a Yeshivah teacher...the consensus among them is that the pay stinks. One friend was let go from their teaching post on the last days of school, almost without notice, not even giving her a chance to look for another job at the height of the hiring season for Yeshivot.

Another friend had been hired at a desperate time, and was promised a certain amount of wages WITH A CONTRACT. During the school year, the school came to her, and told her they were going cut back her wages. She went to her Rabbi, and he admitted to her that she could take it to Bet Din, but would not likely succeed.

The Chutzpah that I have heard [by the individuals to whom it has specifically happened] shown to current and former teachers in Yeshivot is very disgusting...and not befitting the 'religious' nature of the schools.

Personally, people need to wake up, stop playing religious games with Hashem, and learn what it means to be Yirat Shamayim. Not all minds are equal, not all are equally spiritual, but we are all expected to do justice, and walk humbly with our have yirat shamayim. This is what children who go through the Yeshiva system need most. This is the legacy that we need to pass on. And the thievery and hypocrisy doesn't teach them this important lesson.

Be well.

EDTeitz said...


I'm sorry that you have had and heard of such horrible experiences. But let me assure you that that is not the case everywhere.

My school is in NJ. We have teachers who have been with us for over 40 years. We have never missed a payroll, and God willing, never will.

The number I was talking about is for teachers in my school, with over 20 years of experience. The teachers teach every period of the day, from 8:30 to 5:30 with only a lunch break. They also do other projects.

I agree that some school act horribly inappropriately, but do not judge all school by the few who are "bad apples."

Mr. Cohen said...

Most synagogues are empty and unused between 9 AM and 5 PM weekdays.

Use synagogues as classroom space to teach Torah studies, instead of spending millions of dollars on new buildings.

Synagogue basements could be used as classroom space to teach secular studies, for the same reason.


Why do teachers have to be used for only a half a day. In grade school most of the teachers worked a full day. The General Studies Teachers taught 8 periods a day, morning and afternoon. Same with most of the Hebrew Teachers. Why cant this be done?

EDTeitz said...

I'm not sure if this is proper protocol, but for those interested, I was afforded the opportunity to post a guest column that further explains my first article. It can be found at

Orthonomics said...

Will check your post there and hopefully link later. Thanks! No problem with protocol. Time is not on my side today.

suzanne said...

Whoa! $100k/yr for a jewish school teacher? I'm moving to Elizabeth!
If anyone is interested in more info on TYPICAL administrator and teacher salaries, read this study
Unfortunately, this study only included full-time teachers and administrators, who make up only a small percentage of the total faculty at many schools. (For example, in my E/M school only 1 teacher and 2 administrators out of 44 total are full-time.)

Alexis said...

NYC teachers barely hit $100K (it's the last step on the table: MA+30 and 22 years in). There are districts in the suburbs that have a median salary close to $100K, and I think a couple cases over that, but this partly reflects the fact that many teachers in these districts have been there for decades. I do know of Long Island teachers who hit $150K--I believe it required 30 years and coaching multiple sports.

Then again, in a county where a cop (no college education required) can make $90K base after 6 years and hit $100K base not long after, it's not exactly fair to single out teachers.