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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Cash, Cash Equivalent: Is it really ever appropriate?

Every Chanuakah imamother has threads about "Chanukah Gelt" or gifts given directly from parents to teachers, morot, rebbes, and I promise I'm going to write about it. And then I don't. Next rolls along the next giving season, Pesach, and once again I never get around to the subject.

Well, I was surprised to see the cash gift thread arrive a bit prematurely in regards to Purim and I figured, hey, this doesn't need to be a lengthy post, but it is deserving of a discussion. So in the spirit of not procrastinating (or, perhaps in the spirit of procrastination), I'm going to ask my readership not whether cash or a cash equivalents is the better gift for teachers but to ask:

Is is ever appropriate for parents to give cash gifts directly to teachers who are not your own employees/contractors, but employees of the school that you contract with?

Personally, while I respect the institution of "Chanukah Gelt" (instituted when parents paid the Rebbe directly), "Pesach money," and "I'd like to help out the teacher who probably isn't getting paid much," I don't think it is appropriate to give anything more than a de minimus gift (excuse my tax terminology, 'tis the season). And I'm not really sure what the definition of de minimis is, but from what I understand from friends of mine (who live in a community where the custom is common and who appreciate this custom), certain parents will give well into the 100's, sometimes into the 1000's in gelt.

I have a hard time seeing the custom in its current manifestation as a positive. I believe in paying an appropriate market rate, on time, every time. I pitch in for the class gift, although there are years where I'm tempted to pinch my pennies. But, I see this type of giving as an ethical pitfall. (I will ignore any possible financial pitfalls here).

I do believe some (public) school districts issue guidelines on what type of gifts, if any, may be given. I believe one nearby school district prohibits cash and cash equivalents. If the district sees a personal gift as interfering with proper relationships between the school, parents, and teachers, how much more so in a financially private school market where "cash is king"? I don't want to put out accusations, but many do believe that certain behaviors are ignored because of a parent's stature, do we want our teachers to have to function in an environment where they feel their hands are tied more than they already are? Giving tips in a profession where it isn't normative can be interpreted as bribery of sorts. And, there is the issue of insensitivity to those with less when a gift becomes expected.

So, readers, is cash (or cash equivalents) beyond a "de minimis" amount (which would be hard enough to define) ever appropriate?


Mr. Cohen said...

Would this practice be more ethical if all the parents placed their tips into a box, and the teacher removed the cash tips from the box without knowing who donated?

Or would that cause parents to stop giving?

Orthonomics said...

I'd say so.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher and a parent (in the same school) I don't really see the gelt issue as one that has much to do with a parent's stature -- though I suppose it could elsewhere. Where I live, there is a suggested amount for chanuka "bonuses" which is given to the PTA to disburse, and each teacher receives a sum according to the number of students taught. I have on occasion received gifts outside of this program, some very generous, but these gifts have never been from "prominent" parents or parents who are using their financial advantage to mitigate a child's bad behavior/academic performance. In every case, a cash gift was given by a parent who felt, for whatever reason, that the teacher had gone above and beyond her job description to assist and educate the child.
Is this ethically dubious, nonetheless? You have a point, and this could develop into a situation where some parents exercise more influence over the teachers than others. But as the beneficiary in some cases, and the donor in others, I don't see it as a problem in this particular institution and in this particular community.

Anonymous said...

Outside of the yeshivishe veldt this is not an issue. If you are facing this issue you have already entered he yeshivishe community...

Anonymous said...

the problems with these gifts are not that there is an impropriety or attempt to influence the treatment of the student but that it creates the appearance of impropriety, which can be just as bad. Teachers are human and a big gift from a parent can subconsciously influence which students get more attention, the benefit of the doubt, etc. I say no to cash gifts and to non-cash gifts that cost more than a deminimis amount. If you really want to thanks a teacher or rebbe, a letter means a lot. If you want to make sure they are paid decently, then a joint fund with anonymous donations is the way to go. Most public schools not only prohibit cash gifts, but also the non-cash gifts over some small value, such as $20.00.

Anonymous said...

Since when has this all been required? With no kids in school, I guess I haven't come across this before. I went to some yeshivish schools and this just wasn't a big deal.
As a side note, with all the deals, discounts, and gifts given to teachers, maybe it isn't such a bad profession?
I think if the teacher really went out of the way to help your kid, then a token gift would be appropriate. But then again, in many of the therapies/medical fields, it is unethical to take any gift (some guidelines say only "token gifts" are allowed). They cite reasons such as creating an unfair relationship, the client feeling that it is "required of them" to get decent treatment/help, or the provider may be unconsciously influenced by it.
Why should it be different for teachers? Are any of those reasons inapplicable?

Baltimore Yid said...

When my children attended yeshiva we gave from our hearts. In other words if I felt a certain teacher deserved gelt I gave it privately in cash with no fanfare. After we crashed financially and my children went to public school I maintained the same practices. The public school's in Baltimore have a strict no gift policy but after school isn't any of their business.

Anonymous said...

...all cash gifts should be given a week before report cards come out.Tell the teacher it'a token in honor of President's Day,MLK Day Eli Manning's birthday, or National Pickle Week,etc.etc.etc.That way the teacher will know what the gift is really for, and won't make the silly mistake of thinking it's for yomtov.(gifts should be given in envelopes,preferably under a bridge in Jersey)

5 towns said...

To misquote Sigmund Freud, sometimes a thank you is just a thank you. No one is bribing anybody; if your kid is a jerk the Rebbe is not going to treat him any better, etc.

There are years I gave Chanukah and Purim, years I only gave once and years I did not give at all. I never thought my kids were treated better or worse because of it. The rebbe got a bonus if he got my sons excited to learn. It was always accompanied by a note "thanks and keep up the good work" and a check for $100.

I think you may be making a mountain out of an ant. (I start and end with a misquote)

Mr. Cohen said...

May I suggest that from now on, kohanim receive cash tips for blessing the Jewish people :-)

Anonymous said...

Why such the big push to give extra to teachers and to no one else? What about the Rav in your shul? The learners in Kollel? Or your doctor, therapist, accountant and handyman?

Anonymous said...

This subject is so trivial. Can't you come up with anything for the intelligent reader?

Anonymous said...

I worked at a yeshiva where cash presents were encouraged. I never received one because I was the school psychologist, but the teachers definitely took notice of who gave what and in several cases it affected the way in which certain students were treated.

Miami Al said...

Of course tipping is always appropriate... not just for teachers, but for the disciplinary committee at the school in case your children get in trouble.

In fact, at the office, I wanted to get a meeting with the President of the company, and his secretary is the gate keeper, rather than giving her flowers or other cheesy "gifts" I just gave her an envelope of cash "for Purim."

It worked so well that now on all my sales calls, when I meet with the potential buyer for my services, I always bring them a gift.

Later, at my kids soccer game, I went to the ref and told them that I knew how underpaid they were, so I wanted to give them a "Purim gift" before the game, another envelope of cash.

I also gave my city inspector a "Purim Present" envelope of cash, I in know way expect special treatment for this.

All sorts of reasonable tips to give, right?