In this column, the author makes the case (as have other commentators participating in the growing commentaries) that the children of klei kodesh don't really cost the school and he gives an economics 101 lesson regarding fixed and variable costs which is, well, basic.
Unless I am seriously underestimating the current US economic environment and overestimating wealth destruction, I don't believe that the situation on the ground where every child is accommodated "regardless of cost" can continue much longer. Should my gloom and doom be well-founded, there is little purpose in arguing which children are "fixed" and which are "variable" because schools will need to shrink their budgets--and even tuitions--so that full and almost full tuition paying parents can continue to pay tuition and keep the lights on. The loss a dozen full paying families to an alternative and the "variable" students will find themselves "fixed." [Note from my re-reading. . . .no pun intended!]
Moving into logistics and the 300 and 400 series of economics, we might ask, what is the most efficient model to run the school at $X,000 tuition (an amount deemed affordable for the average tuition paying family with children entering into the elementary grades now. .. families often carrying a different financial burden than those who came before)?
When you function into a "conventional" environment--conventional in urban areas only since about the mid-1800's/early 1900's and only more recently "conventional" in small town America--your (frum) K-8 school looks exactly like the author describes:
In a K-8 elementary school where boys and girls are in separate classes, it will be necessary to create at least 18 classes to serve the community. The class size before a second class will be formed is approximately 25 – 30. Assuming equal class size per grade – which is frequently not the case but is presented for illustration purposes – a school with an enrollment from 1 to 450 – 540 students will require a full complement of staff and have a physical plant adequate to provide the necessary classrooms and adjunct facilities. The fixed costs will typically be in the 90 – 95% range of the budget owing to the fact that staff salaries comprise 70 – 80% of operational expenses and plant maintenance including utilities run in the 10 – 15% span. The variable costs that are dependent on level of enrollment thus amount to at most 10% of the entire budget.
If you are interested in creating efficiency in Jewish education because you think the collective "we" is in serious trouble, you might have to break out of the "conventional" box and ask why does the K-8 school need 18 classes? Are all of the fixed costs actually etched in stone (larger building for a larger student body, teachers' aides)? Are there more efficient models educational models that other areas are moving towards as school budgets shrink? What do those models look like?
Recently I discovered that the conventional model of single-grade education dates back to 1848 and was instituted not for educational reasons, but for economic reasons. The factory model of education is efficient in large urban areas. But what of rural areas, small school districts, or shrinking suburban school districts?
Is it necessary to have single grade classrooms (and many of us insist on single grade, single gender classrooms) at every age from 2-year old pre-school on up? Rural areas have always had one-room school house models. Schools with shrinking populations are moving to multi-grade classrooms and it is interesting to hear teacher observations on the benefits and challenges. Is it necessary to have every student on the same school schedule? There are public schools with morning kindergartens and afternoon kindergartens. Would block scheduling and tracked, year round schooling using smaller facilities be possible? So many schools are constantly expanding their facilities, leaving the community with high fixed costs--particularly dangerous should the student population contract at some point.
I don't want to delve into the subject too much longer, so take the comments in whatever direction they may.