Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Disaster Waiting to Happen:
Enrollments are In, But Money Isn't Likely to Follow

This NJ Jewish News article, Day Schools 'Knee Deep' in Scholarship Requests, details an enrollment and tuition assistance process that looks likely to backfire this year. One would presume that enrollments for the coming school year would be slow to come in with increased unemployment, slashed wages, etc. But, where day school is the only option, that is not the case. Enrollments remain strong, but after the enrollments come in, the tuition assistance process starts and the demands on schools are higher than ever.

The yearly price of day school education for a medium sized family can easily be compared to the price of a down payment on a home. But, the process procurement is far different. When making a bid on a home, the buyer is comes to the seller with a some serious money in hand (a realtor will often advise the buyer how much will show serious intent in the current market) to hold the seller's attention and make their interest more interesting. When stating your intentions to acquire a (Jewish) day school education, you simply enroll and pay whatever enrollment fee(s) and pre-paid tuition are applicable. It is a matter of faith on the school's part that the parents will come through. (Other private schools, incidently, seem to rely less on monthly payments, asking for tuition either up front, in bi-annual installments, or quarterly installments. It seems that in many private schools, monthly payments are the exception, rather than the rule). In Jewish schools, the scholarship process follows/runs parallel to the application process. In the past, perhaps, this has worked just fine, but for the upcoming school year of 2009-2010, it is looks like this process could turn disasterous. Remember, that while the scholarship committees are trying to figure out how to distribute the limited discounts/scholarship dollars, the school is in the midst of their hiring and contract process.

The Executive Director of JEC of Elizabeth is on record stating:
“We are knee-deep in scholarship application forms,” said Steven Karp, JEC’s executive director. “We have plenty of people applying; it’s just that nobody can pay.”

The dean of JEC is on record saying: “Our parents are known for procrastinating, I can think of 50 parents off the top of my head who always receive assistance but whose forms are not in yet.”

Unless a school is sitting on significant reserves that can carry them through much of the year is things don't work out as planned, I don't know how it is possible to set a budget, enter into commitments and contracts, hire staff, lay off staff where applicable, when it is impossible to even begin estimating what the enrollment will be.

The director of Livingston's Kushner Hebrew Academy is on record saying: “Just because students are registered doesn’t mean they’ll be here next year. It could be that people will say we’re not getting enough aid” and will then withdraw. He estimates that the dust will settle sometime in mid-August, “when people make their final decisions.”

I imagine that some of those "final decisions" have the potential to leave a lot of damage in their path.


ChocolateandWoolens said...

At my prep school, grades 9-12, tuition looked something like this.

For applicants
Applications due January 1
Financial Aid forms due February 1
Decisions on both come May 15
Students can be accepted but not given financial aid.
People give their decision by mid-April, and then places start getting offered to students on the wait list.

For returning students
Financial Aid forms due Mid-March
Enrollment decisions for next year due Mid-May

Most people pay in two lump payments. But if you want to pay all the tuition (an option only for full tuition paying parents) for four years at once, you can pay it at the current rate and lock it in. Alternatively, you can take the payments in monthly installments, but you pay a 10% premium.

My college had a similar policy.

Anonymous said...

I am on the board of some small non-profits. We usually try to have a reserve and not spend everything one year. It has helped maintain steady employment and operations levels during the lean years. I realize that many schools feel they do not have the luxury to do so when they are not meeting payroll, have families that truly can't pay, etc., but it's something to think about when better economic times return. Isn't that part of the message of the 7 fat cows and 7 skinny cows?

Anonymous said...

Well, it's only been what, 9 months since the market crash. To deal with an impending crisis only 1 year before the next school year may not require excellent management, but does require someone of at least average intelligence that actually gives a damn about the organization they run...

How many day schools are prepared for next year? How many deans are being canned for gross incompetance? How many will continue to suck down a 6 figure salary plus support staff while ignoring the crisis hitting their schools.

It's funny how many of us on this forum cares about the financial future of our communities... Good to know that the communal leaders don't... Or do you know a school that slashed spending 20% to survive this mess?

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard enough belt-tightening on either side of the equation. I haven't heard anything of temporarily (hopefully) returning to the standard that existed in the 1950's, a much pared down Jewish educational system. Similarly, a much more modest lifestyle isn't very evident in the Jewish world. Just try suggesting to these parents that the children don't go to summer camp, & heaven forbid must occupy themselves in the summer, the way it was often done in the 50's!

Anonymous said...

Wait, a solution!

Oh, no, sorry, just another "raise more money" suggestion.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, so what are these schools supposed to do? They could require families to make significant down payments earlier and move up the deadlines for financial aid applications. However, family circumstances including parental job loss and earnings decreases can still come between now and September, and too much pressure could push some families away.
They could, in fairness, let some of the staff know they might not have jobs in the fall so they can start looking elsewhere, as well as delay new hiring. They could do contingency planning -- i.e. draw up budgets at different levels and figuring out different staffing levels, student/teacher ratios and looking for ways to trim excesses, including paring back on administrative salaries. This is where an independent, informed board of directors comes in. They are the ones who can and should be making the tough decisions. The board can also give some cover to the administrators who need to maintain good relations with the staff and parents.
The schools can also hold forums with parents -- provide financial statements, discuss options, solicit suggestions and enlist the parents help in fundraising. Informed parents who are included in the process are more likely to help, and to understand and support the tough decisions.

Anonymous said...

here's how the JEC plans to raise money (from an email I received). I wish this was a joke.

Jewish Educational Center

You are invited to an evening of friendship and fund raising. Bring your gold, silver & platinum - any color or shape, pieces you never wear, single earrings, broken chains, dental gold and coins. Gold is selling at an all time high. Feel confident that you are being paid the highest prices possible for your jewelry from a reputable family of jewelers, who have been in business for nearly a century. They manufacture jewelry as well as sell it, eliminating the middleman often needed to melt the metals. Thus, they have the ability to offer you the highest prices for your items. Additionally, they will donate 20% of THEIR proceeds to the JEC. So, look around carefully for all that forgotten, valuable treasure and let it work for you, as you get paid on the spot! (If you're not certain if your items are gold, our professionals will test them for you. They will also extract stones and return them to you.)

We look forward to seeing you!

Miami Al said...

I want to see substantial cuts. No more part time staffing, because even if on "paper" it's cheaper because of benefits, it generally costs more because you don't pay attention to the $5k-$10k at a time bleed.

In the early 90s recession, faced with a big budget shortfall, Broward County public schools cut 1 period/day out of it's school system, decimating electives. A year later they were able to have things better under control, but that massive cut helped deal with the shortfall.

Did extra curricular activities suffer, yup, did electives suffer, yup, was the school system able to function for that year, moving kids along in there studies... yup.

No more two teachers/class in grade school... This "secular/religious" split is insane at lower levels. If your staff isn't competent (but if your secular teachers are mostly Orthodox Jews, most of them could teach elementary school level religion... and just float some Hebrew language instructors through the day... 1 hour/day, floating. If you really need more Judaic instruction, float a Rabbi through as well... That should give you one Hebrew language and 1 Rabbi per 6 classes, seems doable. Your secular teachers can teach the basics beyond that.

This may not be ideal, but we're playing for survival in '09-'10, we can start to rebuild from leaner organizations in '11, '12, and '13. The kids will survive with less intensive religious education for one year, but you can't let the ship sink.

Cut administration in half. That will show a sharing of the pain, but they can all learn to work 60-80 hour weeks like every other highly paid professional.

If you don't cut staffing dramatically, you can't control costs. Get every incompetent hired because of who there father is off the payroll immediately. Get costs AND tuition down, and get people prepared to less scholarship. But the professional class that carries the load most years has been walloped, they need a break.

Zach Kessin said...

The community needs to figure out what it can afford to do, and stick to that. This will mean some painful choices have to be made. Some things will have to be cut, and major things. And other things that have been seen as needs will have to be refiled as "wants".

I honestly don't see this happening until there is no other choice. And this will do a HUGE amount of damage to the community.

And when I say "No other choice" I am absolute worst case.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: Great tough love. You make some excellent points. In the younger grades, if a teacher is not competent to teach english, math, social studies (even if some courses or refreshers are needed), then are they competent to teach hebrew, etc? Alternatively, schools need to be flexible and have one class that gets their secular in the morning and another in the afternoon, and vice versa for the religious subjects, to get rid of the use of part-timers. Agreed on administration. If there really are people making 6 figures, in the secular world almost no one makes six figures working just 40 hours a week 48 weeks/year.

Lion of Zion said...


"Just try suggesting to these parents that the children don't go to summer camp, & heaven forbid must occupy themselves in the summer, the way it was often done in the 50's!"

my 4-year-old should stay home alone? this isn't the 1950s. my wife works.

(incidentally, i know that in one popular sleepaway camp that usually has waiting lists, enrollment is down this year.)


i've ranted before about the rebbe-azation of the MO teaching staff.

i love your idea of 1 fulltime teacher for the lower grades.

Charlie Hall said...

Last year was the last for one 60+ year old day school in the Bronx.

I suspect that many more will be closing because of lack of money, and that there will be more and more frum kids in public schools.

For 40 years the answer from our leaders has been to get the government to provide voucher programs. It should be clear by now that such isn't happening; there is essential zero public support for it and it is actually illegal in most states. But there is no Plan B.

Unfortunately, I don't have a solution, either.

Anonymous said...

AL: One teacher for all subjects in the lower grades should be a no brainer. Public school teachers are required and expected to be able to teach all subjects in grades K-6. Are the private school teachers less capable? Is the problem that we might then need teachers who go to a regular 4 year college for a teaching degree and maybe even a masters? If so, they may expect the same pay and benefits as in public school (although working in a private school has lots of advantages that may justify a small pay differential).

JS said...

Interesting article about a new school in Washington Heights:

Offwinger said...

My problem with 1 teacher for "everything" in lower grades is the sacrifice to learning Hebrew. 1 hour per day doesn't cut it. Ivrit b'ivrit works as immersion. Very few schools "do it right," but to me, Hebrew fluency is an essential skill in being able to learn Torah.

That said, I agree with Al's general principle - that there should be an equal number of teachers as there are classes, and no restrictions on scheduling (e.g., torah must always be in AM) to prevent teachers from rotating & switching classes, based on subject matter.

Anonymous said...

Offwinger: There are two options:
(1) if there is a shortage of teachers who can do both, send the teachers who are fluent in hebrew, but not qualified to teach other subjects to night school/summer school, college etc. to get sufficient training; or (2) understand that you cannot have it all. Something has to give. Even having full-time teachers is not going to be a cure-all. There are still going to have to be compromises if people want to avoid the biggest compromise - namely, public school.

Lion of Zion said...


i agree with you 100% about the importance of hebrew immersion.

but realistically, mastering even the basics of hebrew (forget fluency) is at best of secondary importance in most schools. this is true even in many (most?) MO schools. (i have a short post coming up about this on my blog.) this is one of the things that bothers me most about my son's own school.

so i don't really see this is as an obstacle to having 1 teacher

Offwinger said...

It's not an obstacle if you presume the goal is to take the current model & cut costs.

If the goal is to figure out what a bare bones, cost effective Jewish education looks like, short-changing Hebrew language strikes me as a poor choice of priorities.

Lion of Zion said...


my point was that hebrew is already being short-changed with the current system--and no one seems to care, so it's not like this is changing anytime soon--so switching to 1 teacher won't make it any worse.

Commenter Abbi said...

I taught all subjects in a first grade classroom about 10 years ago, including immersion Hebrew.(My Hebrew was crappy compared to what it is now, but it's all I spoke to the kids).

I'm not sure why Hebrew immersion should be an impediment to a one teacher classroom. Any MO day school graduate should at least have bare bones Hebrew that can be beefed up with an ulpan class or language tapes.

Anonymous said...

If people feel that Hebrew immersion is being short changed, how about the parents get involved and use Hebrew immersion at home. For example, dinner (including prep and clean-up) can be immersion only. If the parents don't know Hebrew, they can learn too. In other words, don't ask the schools to do everything and then complain about the costs.

Anonymous said...

unless your teacher is israeli, for the most part in my day school ( a long standing institution in paramus that started in paterson) there is no good ivrit bivrit.
the rebbeim are almost all yeshivsih and their hebrew is subpar.
most teach in english and when you read the homework questions if you know any hebrew grammar you wince.
ivrit bivrit for the most part is a joke.
in the limdei kodesh in frisch and ramaz and tabc etc many of the rebbeim are in just as poor shape.
the only way you bet ivrit bivrit is by having israelis.
unfortnutaley, we dont have people like the haramatis, the rafuls, yerushalmis, kronmens etc anymore.