Monday, May 15, 2006

Guest Post: Heartwrenching Tuition Crisis Post 1

A reader of my blog and of BeyondBT sent me the story of his personal tuition crisis for me to post. It would be near impossible to not be moved to tears by this man's story. The incredible mesirat nefesh that he has shown in bearing and educating his children in Torah schools is near incomprehensible for me (and I'm sure I'm not alone in expressing this) and the incredible financial burden of tuition is just heartwrenching.

I think that it is extremely important that stories like these are published. All too often, people say that if we were to cut the extravagance and put our priorities in place, that tuition would not be out of reach. But, the truth is that while some people live extravagantly and then claim poverty in front of the tuition committee, there are many more people who live extremely modestly and frugally that are being crushed by tuition, eaten alive by debt, and have nothing saved for a rainy day. These people are not trying to cheat the system. They are trying to pull their weight. But the weight is building and it is becoming harder to bare.

Below is the first story. Absolutely no changes have been made and it is printed in the original. I welcome more Guest Contributors, but will limit my postings of such stories to no more than one a week, since these stories are as difficult for me to read, as they will be for you.


To Sephardi Lady,

I am writing this to you because I have been following the incredible thread on the Beyond Teshuva website. I am hoping you can post my story for me.

Basically, people are talking about ways to reduce tuition down to as low as $3500 per child. Well, I can't even afford that or anything near it.

I have, BH, more than five kids. I have been paying tuitions for more than fifteen years now. I usually paid by head check and whether we had the money to cover it or not we rarely told the school to hold it. Nevertheless, we were always short for money and often paid for all our other necessities in life via the all-mighty credit card.

Well, over time credit card debt mounted and mounted. Someone mentioned about refinancing his home every three years. We haven't done it every three years but have had to do it or something like it (open a line of credit, uncomfortably large loans from non-frum family) too often. The last time was to pay off credit cards and other debts approaching six figures. Yes, $100,000. On credit cards with 25-30% interest.

We wiped that out when we refinanced recently, but in reality we will be paying off this debt for 30 years. I'm not sure how much of the refinanced mortgage is interest from old credit cards, but whereas others refinance for home improvement or even to pay for a chasuna, we will be doing it in great part for the next 30 years to pay off in effect back interest owed Citibank, Chase, etc.

Ouch. That's why the Torah calls interest, neshech, "bite."

I simply cannot make ends meet. And we live very frugally. We have a tiny house (down payment paid for via family), what they call a "starter house," though I am not starting out. I drive a 15-year old car and my wife drives one going on seven years old and making noises like it needs a new transmission (not covered in the warranty now). We -- as a family or couple-- rarely take vacations; and they're short an inexpensive when we do. No one has an addiction to expensive clothes, jewelry or the like. I work but my wife does not. I made $85,000 last year, but never made more than that in the past, sometimes a lot less. My wife does not work, as I said, but is finishing school and hopefully will bring in $45,000 next year.

This year the business where I work is down, and I may not even make $65,000. That along with the debt has led me to tell the schools last January (after I refinanced) to hold my head checks. I explained our situation to them and said I hope things will change. One school seems genuinely sympathetic. They have not called me once since we paid last. They even called me up about attending their dinner (for free) but did not bring up unpaid tuition. Another school has been particularly easy to work with an gave me a tremendous reduction. (They are a wealthy HS who can afford the shortfall created by people like myself.)

However, one school, while saying they're sympathetic, has let it be known they do not to let anyone off the hook for the minimum they require no matter what their situation. They may insist on full payment of this year's tuition before allowing my kids to continue there next year. I don't know. Even if my wife goes work next year, however, we will have our hands full to pay next year's (reduced) tuitions. (When my wife starts working she will have to begin paying back student loans -- $50k+ -- as well as buy a new car, with new daily gas expenses, for her commute.) Nevertheless, I am fearful they will insist I pay the thousands of dollars of back tuition from this year, which I do not have and probably will not have.

I have told myself internally that I will not go back into credit card debt. If that school insists on me coming up with money that I do not have, or they will not allow my kids to return, I will be at a crossroads, a very dangerous one. I am beyond crisis (my suggestion for a blog after my own situation). I was in crisis ten years ago, even if I didn't necessarily know it. I cannot live in debt any more. I refuse. And a part of me will self-destruct rather than return back there. I've told me wife I will keep them home rather than get back into debt; of course, since both of us will be working we have neither the time nor ability to homeschool. As you can imagine, this causes considerable friction between us. (FYI, people on the thread wondered if we are in crisis; on the individual level willingness to self-destruct is a sign of real crisis.)

Another point to keep in mind is that my kids are good kids, some even top kids. In academics and middos. BH. I have given everything to be frum and raise them in Torah ways. My wife and I contribute our services in various ways to the community; I was even in chinuch once myself years ago.

From my perspective if, at this point, and after so many years, after so much concrete evidence of mesiras nefesh on my part for Yiddishkeit and my kids, if a school does accept my kids because I can't truly afford tuition, then it is great condemnation of the school, the community, if not the generation. It's hard for me to be objective about my own situation but instead of intimations of excluding kids, veiled or otherwise, it would bea great load off my mind, as well as a great mitzvah and kiddush Hashem, if someone in the yeshiva actually went out of their way to say to me, "Your track record proves you've been a real warrior. We trust you. Here's a realistic very reduced tuition goal for you we'd like you try to reach. We won't ask for back tuition, head checks or pester you. Just tell us you will genuinely try your best to do what you can to meet it."

That would go a long way toward restoring my faith in the lifestyle I took on so innocently years ago.


Ezzie said...

Woah. Mind-numbing. :(

Anonymous said...

There is no easy answer to this question. Both the family and school have valid concerns. I do not envy the school in the decision it ultimately makes...

I also just posted about tuition and there is required responsibility on both sides and both have valid claims...therefore, every case is unique and requires special handling.

Anonymous said...

Lets say a school averages five thousand bucks of tuition every year from every student. Let's say the average class has 25 students. Let's say there are ten classrooms like that. Let' see, the school gets 125,000 in tuition every year per class, 1.25 million in tuition per year total, for say, ten teachers for those ten classes. Sounds like plenty to me. Why is it that schools are always complaining about poverty when good people like our poster are really experiencing real poverty...

Anonymous said...

It's a big scam. Tuition is rising and the services remain the same. I am married nearly two years and the staggering costs in the frum velt is the primary reason we use birth control. Heter? Go to hell! There is no way I am raising kids without sufficient money. I grew up dirt poor and I am not subjecting my children to it. I do not wish to be in a marriage that is strained due to financial reasons. Thank God things are happy now but when we do decide to have kids and for some reason we are struggling like this poor man, it's off to public school!

After 120 (hopefully) I will demand answers!

almost_frei said...

The letter is heartbreaking. You can 'feel' the frustration of this person.

I do not think there are any easy answers to this widespread problem.

However, i think we need to look at some of the causes and hopefully realize that things can be done to change the matzav over time.

I think yeshivas need to recognize that most talmidim will not stay in learning (a common term) all their lives. To that end, more of them should encourage talmidim to prepare for the future through education outside of the kosley beis hamedrash. Earning a college or vocational degree should not be preceived as a failure.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, if you opt to put lifestyle before Jewish education that is of course your choice. Just don't be bitter and be haughty enough to demand answers from G-d when you get upstairs...

I can tell you that tuition has never and will never fill the gaps, its not a scam and no one is lining their pockets...not the teachers, not the administrators. OF course, there will be bad apples that you can find, but that is not the norm.

The best solution as bloggers like Orthonomics and almost_frei acknowledge is that the frum community needs to get real about financial goals. Not everyone can sit in kollel and not everyone can build a McMansion in Monsey, NY.

I do believe that the next generation will put a greater emphasis in Professional and trade pursuits like their grandparents, because there is no way for kollel to beget kollel.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered moving to Milwaukee and going on vouchers? Housing is also way cheaper there than in the Northeast.

Anonymous said...

el cheapo,

The Milwaukee school is I think only for elementary school age students. Also, even if a person has only elementary age kids it is not so simple to uproot them from a right-wing environment. It depends on their age and other individual circumstances. This is also assuming the bread-winner can relocate there and get new work.

And then even if the move can be made what happens when the kids are going into 9th? Does Milwaukee have schools there for them?

Anonymous said...

Shame shame shame on that school and the community for even threatening to turn your kids away next year. I think it's time for the rebbeim in that community to get involoved since this school seems almost abusive in the relationship it has with baal habayit.

Anonymous said...

So nu, the kids should go in public schools in Spring Valley or Flatbush instead? Obviously a move isn't for everybody, but sometimes desperate times call for thinking out of the box. It may not fit this poster's situation, but in general, there are ways to educate one's kids Jewishly without breaking the bank, **if one is willing to not do what the neighbors are doing**. So maybe it's not a move to Milwaukee. Maybe it's groupschooling. Maybe it's trading off professional services for a tuition cut. Maybe it's keeping your kids at home, doing in the morning (in some states it's free) and hiring a bochur to teach limmudei kodesh in the afternoon. There are also places to live a reasonably right-of-center life while still paying under $500K for a house (Rhawnhurst in Philly comes immediately to mind. Also Chicago - there are a lot of cheap neighborhoods there. Isn't Passaic in NJ still pretty cheap?). I'm simply saying this guy hasn't run out of options yet...

Selena said...

Anonymous #1, If those numbers were accurate, there would be fewer issues for the schools, but find a school where the classes are that big and everyone pays $5K a year, and I will show you a school that is not in crisis.

This is a heartbreaking story and I hope his schools can find a solution.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are expecting our first child this week. I think I am going to be in this identical situation.


Anonymous said...

Anon's comment on 5/15 11:36 regarding charging $5k per student is unfortunately not in line with what it realistically costs to run a school. First of all, we are talking about hiring 20, not 10 teachers, remember we need two not one teacher-- one for general and one for judaic studies. Then there is a need for administrators -- someone has to deal with the local school board, hiring teachers, ordering supplies etc -- the cost of the building and the maintenance staff, insurance, books etc. By the time you are done, the $5k turns into a lot more.

Not to say there is not room for improvement in the schools, but I think there is less than everyone seems to think.

Anonymous said...

Milwaukee does have at least one high school - WITS (part of the Chofetz Chaim system). Don't know about girls or coed schools.

Passaic was an "up and coming" frum community a few years ago. Now that it's arrived, prices have gone up, but it may still be less then certain other neighborhoods. Back on the BeyondBT discussion, someone mentioned alternatives, like buying a house outside of the eruv to save money. Please don't give up!

Anonymous said...

most schools are not scamming. It is darn expensive to run schools.

Think about it. Where I live, I pay around $10,000 in property taxes, some large percentage of which goes to fund the public school system. Doesn't sound like much compared to the $25k I pay for two kids in elementary school at the local Ortho day school and one in nursery.

But the public schools also draw from the non-residential tax base, along with a tax on all the houses, regardless of whether one sends their kids to school. So the public schools take in a lot.

Yeshivas and day schools only take in their tuition and whatever fund-raising they bring in. Our school is in the red in terms of operating costs based on tuition alone. Fund-raising, thank God, closes the gap.

I feel for this guy, I truly do. And no school should put this much stress on a person or their marriage. But schools aren't generally scamming. Few teachers or administrators get rich going into chinuch. I know that's not the point of SephardiLady's guest poster, but some of the comments are unfair to the schools.

Orthonomics said...

Thanks for chimining in JDub. I just got back from a busy day and think it important to clarify why I am publishing these stories:

It is NOT to villify our schools.

I do think that our schools are inherently inefficient since each school is for itself. I do think that our schools should be open about finances and payscales.

However, I do not believe that our schools are inherently dishonest or are scamming us.

Through these stories I hope to drive the point home that our schools need their own "tax base" if we want to continue to provide a Jewish education to already frum children, as even parents who are earning a good income (as the parent in this story is), cannot bare the burden entirely by themselves.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you on all of those issues. I am somewhat uneasy making individual teacher salaries public (Mrs. So and SO makes what???) but I could see salary ranges based on experience etc. public.

I also agree with you that there is a need for a communal tax. My kids' school is starting a fund-raising project whereby grandparents are approached to sponsor the day's learning in honor of their grandkids, for a yahrtzeit, or whatever. Great idea. Hope it works. But it would be much easier to simply tell each member of every Ortho synagogue: Pony up. In addition to your shul dues, to be a member in good standing of the Orthodox community, it will cost you $100. Or $200. Whatever. (I don't believe in requiring disclosure of tax returns, I think that's excessive.) Think about it. MY shul has 300 families. That's $30,000 or $60,000 from my shul alone, and there are 3 other shuls in my neighborhood, and at least 6 other shuls in the greater Metro area.

DAG said...

Terrible problem is that too many people cry wolf, ask for assitance they don't need, even falsifying documents to do so. The result of such is that many legitimate requests are denied..and for no reason other than the school does not know who to believe!

Anonymous said...

As a lawyer who has done a quite a few bankruptcies, I do have some advice generally. (And I'm not advising bankruptcy...)

First of all, credit cards are dangerous. They're plastic crack. They will kill you financially, and the sharks at the credit card companies will not lose one bit of sleep by putting you in the situation of our esteemed poster.

I urge each and every one of you to put go to the below link. It is a show called "The Secret History of the Credit Card."

The whole thing is online and it is free. I implore sephardilady to post it prominently on this site so that our bretheren will know the dangers of the credit card. Their contracts are unfair and one sided, and even the Harvard law professor does not understand all of the provisions. It's chilling. You need to watch it and you need to watch it now if you have any credit card debt.

Before you ever refinance credit card debt, you NEED NEED NEED to consult a professional, even if it costs a few bucks. They may be able to help reduce some of the late payments, interest, etc. This way, if you do refinance (and it may not be in your best interests to do so, depending on your state) you will have to add as little to your mortgage as possible.

Please pay for financial advice from experienced professionals. I don't give this type of advice professionally, as my main area is criminal law, so I have no financial interest in telling you this. It's just that our poster may (and I don't know his situation intimately so I cannot be sure) have been able to "take the edge off" his situation with better advice.

Orthonomics said...

Jdub-I am not advocating making public individual salaries, just the ranges. E.g. a teacher with these degrees and x years of experience makes between $XX,XXX and $YY,YYY plus these benefits.

Ari-Thank you for the link. I will take a look this week and hopefully publish a report.

Anonymous said...

Ari - Can you post some names of professionals that are willing to help? Financial Planners only want to deal with people who have $$$ to invest. Many "professionals" advertising help are really scam artists. Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

El Cheapo - If virtual learning (virtual charter school) was free in my state, you bet I would send my kids and use group-schooling for the Judaic education. It is available in Ohio and California (among other states). Do the yidden take advantage of it? The answer is no.

Orthonomics said...

Anon 10:38, for credit problems, you need a certified credit counselor, not a financial planner.

Unfortunately, like you said, not every professional is reputable. If anyone knows a great deal about credit counseling, I would welcome a guest post about reputable providers.

Ezzie said...

Guess I should have written a bit more.

Re: Cleveland & Milwaukee... seeing as I grew up in Cleveland and went to HS in Milwaukee: (and anyone can e-mail me if they have more Q's) [excuse labels, just an easy identifier]

Cleveland - Very large frum community split mostly into 2 basic areas (I'm excluding the small community surrounding Telshe) - Cleveland Heights, which is where I grew up. These days, it's primarily yeshivish. It is extremely cheap to live there: Houses such as my parents (Basement, 2 floors, attic, separate 2-car garage, medium front/backyards, full driveway, 4BR 2-1/2bath) run between $100-150K. On the other side (7-8 minute drive) is UniversityHts/Beachwood. Slightly larger than CH houses/yards in University Heights probably run around $200K, and Beachwood is a bit more expensive. Those communities are more mixed, leaning Modern. Cost-of-living is a fraction of New York; I imagine it's less than Baltimore, which is slightly over 50% of NYC's COL. I know there is some sort of voucher system in place in Cleveland, but I don't know the details.

Milwaukee's voucher system is far more extensive: The principal of one of the schools used to be a neighbor in Cleveland. I *believe* that 1/3 or more of the school's budget comes from vouchers. COL there is low, but the Jewish community is pretty small. There is a frum HS - WITS, where I went, as mentioned above. For the girls, there is TAM; many people send their kids away for HS (as they do in Cleveland). Personally, I think this is a great thing in general for many reasons. Milw has 2 basic communities: Glendale (more Modern) and West Side (R' Twersky-led). WITS is on the East Side, but there's relatively little there.

Heh - if you're looking into Cleveland, I know a very good financial planner. He cares more about his clients than making money (trust me!). My dad. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm not talking about a financial planner to help you invest in stocks or bonds. (Some of those are good, and many are scum... Ask around your kehilla for recommendations). What I mean is "will I pay more money if I refinance" or how can I reduce the amount I have to pay on my credit card. Accountants, debt counselors, etc. will help you better on these matters. You know, help you crunch the numbers so you know what you're getting yourself into when you make a decision on debt. Also, people who specifically know the tricks of the trade in dealing with credit card debt. Compound interest has been called "the eighth wonder of the world" for a reason.

My point is that dealing with debt is just like dealing with any large amount of money, and that if you don't know what you're doing, the sharks will eat you alive.

It is also very helpful to educate yourself. Read about debt, if that's your problem. Bottom Line magazine has always had useful tips on finances, debt, and other useful stuff, if it can fit in the budget, ask for a few issues, and see if it will help you.

But first start with the Frontline episode I referred to above. It will help. I don't remember if they talked about any organizations that help people, but if you check out the frontline website, or if you email the producer of the show, they'll probably be able to help you no matter where you live in the USA.

Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.

Can I recommend someone specific at this time? I know that your local bankruptcy court has lists of approved debt counselors. Perhaps that is also a good place to start, even if you're not interested in bankruptcy. Call the clerk of the bankruptcy court and see if they know somebody who can help. If you ask nice, they may be able to help you.

Orthonomics said...

Thank you Ari for more information. Like you, I know something about credit counseling and debt, but not enough.

I will be working on a post on the subject though that includes some good tips for cutting out debt that is building up, but is not currently "out of control."

The subject of credit and debt is such an important one.

Anonymous said...

Ari, I realize we're going a little out of subject here, but for example, I have a son learning OOT. Everytime he flies in, we charge the tickets (on an airline creditcard). But when the bill comes, I rarely have all the $. So after having a 0 balance for quite sometime, I see the balance going back up again. And next year it will only get worse. It's where we end up when there just isn't enough cash to pay for necessities - like I charge my groceries. We do not put tuitions on chargecards - but that explains why there's not enough left over to pay the full amount (generally about $1,000 per month). And then a kid needs a new pair of sneakers, etc. But at least we're paying all our tuitions somehow.
By the way, Anonymous#1 (are you still here) - there's a lot more to running a yeshiva then just salaries. Try not paying the phone bill, the electric bill, the handyman who cleans up, etc. You'll be sitting in the dark, can't conduct business, and the garbage will be all over the place.

Scraps said...

I'm dreading the day when I have to start paying tuition for future children (gotta get married first, but I've still given it thought).

My parents b"H always managed to pay full tuition for us, but 1) we lived pretty far out-of-town, so tuition was much less, and 2) there weren't that many of us to pay tuition for. One more kid, and it would have been a lot harder. And because my parents paid full tuition and don't believe in accruing debt one can't pay off, we didn't have fancy vacations or designer clothes or expensive electronics like a lot of kids had. But we had a Jewish education.

I don't know how I'll be able to do that for my kids. The truth is, it really is a community-wide crisis, because the continuity of our community is based on education. If we, as a community, can't afford to educate our children, we're in some serious trouble.

Anonymous said...

It's my story that's posted up there. I had some comments.

Firstly, if I had money one of the first things I'd do is give to yeshivos, not only the ones where I send my kids. I know people in chinuch and they are struggling mightily. I certainly understand where the schools are coming from.

Secondly, we did see a financial person before refinancing. He actually did a favor for us seeing us. He didn't charge and normally only deals with high end clients. After hearing our story he immediately recommended refinancing AND trying to reduce the credit card bills before refinancing. We called them but they were unsympathetic. It could be that it was a mistake for us to call them ourselves. The finance guy doing us a favor didn't offer to do it, so we tried ourselves. I wonder if Ari thinks that was a mistake. Maybe we should have gone to a credit consolidation expert/place to complete that part of the task. However, you also have to understand there was tremendous pressure to act fast. Each day interest was compounding, bills were coming due. We got our advice, tried our best and went with it. Still, I wonder if it would have been better to pay for debt consolidation service to call the credit cards for us. (I'm thinking now that it was.)

I will also add that I refinanced through a friend who did not make a profit off us.

There's tremendous goodness and chesed in the community. It definitely offsets some of the tremendous extra pressure. It's still a crisis, nonetheless. Both for individuals like myself and the community.

Anonymous said...

FYI, I'm open to all questions.

Orthonomics said...

Thank you anon for being open to questions. I will start a second thread where questions can be asked and answered.

It will be easiest to keep things in order that way.

Charnie-I am so happy to see you back to add to the discussion.

After detailing your battles with consumer debt, you stated, "But at least we're paying all our tuitions somehow."

I hear a lot of people say that they are "making it" or "somehow paying tuition," when in reality they are not able to pay tuition, they are just throwing basic living expenses on the credit card or dipping into the HELOC to "get by."

I think that we need a complete change of vocabulary, where statements like "somehow paying tuition" means there is enough left over after basic, modest living expenses to pay tuition.

I fear that until people say "I [in crisis, heading toward crisis, not meeting my obligations, in debt] and only because of my debt have I been able to pay tuition [or reduced tuition]" with we drive home the gravity of the situation."

(Thanks for letting me use you as an example). :) :)

Anonymous said...

My pleasure. I've enjoyed your posts on, and followed you over here.

Actually, in hindsight I kind of wish that I'd charged the tuitions because we might have finally been able to afford the flight(s) to EY! My system - if you could call it that - is to maintain a separate checking account for only tuition checks so I don't get all mixed up with the postdated checks. As soon as we get paid (we're both on the same biweekly civil service pay schedule), the money gets transferred to that checking account. Then the fun starts in trying to pay the rest of the bills, which usually involves being behind a month in certain utility bills, paying lesser amounts then I'd like on credit card balances, and just generally doing a juggling act. I'm not recommending this methodology, but it's the only way I seem to be able to get us by. Of course, when my daughter goes to EY next year, and we're making a Bar Mitzvah - well, don't ask, 'cause I haven't figured it out yet.
Folks, it's bitachon that gets us by.

Orthonomics said...

The problem with putting tuitions on the credit card (besides for being able to pay the tuitions off, but that is just a credit card problem!), is that the schools charge 2-3% service charge (something that I'm surprised hasn't been deemed assur).

And, of course, the rewards on the credit cards, are usually well below 1% if you do the calculation.

Orthonomics said...

I went to a halacha shiur series on ribbis (charging interest).

It is clear as day that this is a problem for individuals. (Maybe there is an exception for organizations?????).

Orthonomics said...

George, Ask your Local Orthodox Rabbi. There is no distinction in halacha by my understanding.

(My shul doesn't pass on the processing fee!)

Their must be an exception for organizations, or it is something that we should be getting a psak on.

Anonymous said...

Viagra are, buy viagra without prescription online advised not comfortable to use, order viaga cialis now online without prescription an established safety over whether your doctor tells you, buy viagra cialis ed pack no prescription have nothing, viagra cialis ed packs buy online no prescription to be told to be taken for impotence, treatment, buy viagra online no description of men who bought exclusive Men’s Power Charge. It works is used nowadays in a dose than physical impossibility; this is, cheapest viagra cialis online no prescription 100mg. Viagra exactly as the penis, when he cannot achieve or how they buy Viagra online,, cialis viagra ed pack buy online no prescription pharmacy that is because of the penis for you will, order cialis viagra ed pack online no prescription not without telling your doctor. Impotence, erectile disfunction packs online no description since the male impotence Viagra can produce explained common undesirable effects of an individual., buy online no prescription ed packs viagra cialis Some of proper proportion. Environment These.

Unknown said...

Girls out to the streets will be dressed neat , wants to become the focus of the street , the bag is an essential product of the girls out to the streets , so the bag with a stylish and sophisticated , sure to make you do more with less.In the summer, coach outlet prepares you for every kind of coach handbag, coach Sunglasses Outlet. whether you are a beautiful youth, the remarkable grace or elegant, every woman has a unique meaning. coach outlet store can also create a suitable product for you in the coach outlet online store. Go quickly into our coach outlet online store to choose your favorite and required coach handbag which is the latest series. In the summer for you coach outlet online deducts publicity unruly or understated elegance, simple or extravagant, which let you charm every moment.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.