Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Shopping Around" for the Lowest Priced School

The following is a letter from this week's Yated proposing cooperation amongst schools and a uniform standard of tuition and scholarship standards. The veteran principal of 35 years doesn't think highly about a trend he has noted of parents "shopping around" for the lowest priced schools. He also believe that when parents "shop around" it forces a minimum tuition and upon parents "who truly do qualify for significant tuition breaks," shutting out families, particularly immigrant families, out of a Yeshiva education. Additionally, he begins the article decrying the lack of payment in certain schools and asks why the silence? I think the answer is pretty simple: drastic change is necessary and it is extremely difficult to make drastic changes because, as those who have sat on boards know, your hands are tied from all directions.

This letter is all over the place. I'm not going to add any comments except to say that perhaps those parents who are "shopping around" also need a tuition break and they should not feel guilty about taking their own needs to the free market (no, I do not believe that more costly school=better). And, while parents shopping out schools based on price is something I know upsets some people (boy did I get an earful when I mentioned that our school--which we do think is the best fit--had a lower tuition as the person who gave me the earful thought it inappropriate to consider price when picking a school), but it could be worse (!). Full and near-full tuition paying parents could just leave the "system" and take their funds along with them too.

I will let my readers provide any additional commentary. The thing the author is right about is that the solution will likely fall in the hands of Eliyahu HaNavi!

Dear Editor,

For the past few years, our communities, especially in the New York area, have been grappling with the tuition crisis. This crisis is existent more now than ever with the especially difficult economic situation causing unemployment, a freeze on salaries, and a higher cost of living.

It is inescapable that families with two or more children have a hard time meeting the tuition costs which can range from $15,000 to $60,000. However, there is one side of this crisis which has rarely been mentioned. More schools are now solving their lack of funds on the backs of their faculty members. More yeshivos failing to meet monthly payroll are now two to four months behind in salary payments.

The question is, why the silence? Why the silence regarding the direct Torah violation of “not withholding wages overnight”? Why the silence of board members, the lay leaders of successful businesses? How can we expect our chinuch professionals to possess high self esteem when they must face their wives and children after working and receiving no money to cover their expenses?

Yes, we have graduated. In the past decade, the teaching profession has been elevated to a higher level of professionalism and receives even better pay. However, my deepest fear is that this tuition crisis has set the world of chinuch back.

We have created an atmosphere in which parents “shop around” for schools, looking for the least expensive one as opposed to one that has academic qualities and is best for their child. We have created competition amongst schools, not based on academics but based on lowest tuition costs.

Parents who truly do qualify for significant tuition breaks are now rejected because they can’t even meet the minimum tuition, and our immigrant and less religious families are choosing public schools, not even contemplating to apply to yeshivos. All these issues have been borne through the atmosphere created by the tuition crisis.

The only way to solve this crisis is by having yeshivos in different communities, such as Brooklyn and Queens (those most affected by the crisis), communicate with each other. A good beginning would be to form a unified standard of tuition as well as scholarship standards. This would mean more cooperation amongst different yeshivos and a concern for the general community rather than for the individual school and community. An atmosphere of achdus in brainstorming for solutions would result.

The question is, are we genuinely concerned for the totality of our “education community”? This means parents receiving a tuition solution, children getting the necessary services and being placed in the yeshiva most suited for them, teachers - at the very least - being paid on time, etc.

I patiently wait for the solution to this dilemma. Perhaps it will be left up to Eliyahu Hanovi with the coming of Moshaich.
A Veteran Principal of 35 Years


Miami Al said...

I hope they get sued for violating the Sherman Anti-trust Act. You aren't allowed to collude with your competition to prevent customers from getting lower prices.

I'm glad this crook isn't in charge of educating my children.

Fern Chasida said...

do east coast day schools handle the scholarship dealings in house? when we were in california, an outside body was in charge of getting our financial information and divvying up scholarships.

Lion of Zion said...

i don't understand how schools that provide different levels of service, have different expenses and owe different types of debt should be able to charge the same tuition and have the same scholarship policies..

as far as shopping around, i don't understand what's wrong with it. there is not much that i like about my son's school. the main reason he is there is because it is as much as 60% less than the schools i would prefer. but there is a reason there is such a price disparity and it be would ridiculous for my son's school to charge what the others charge and it would be impossible for them to charge what my son's school charges.

Orthonomics said...

Miami Al-Uniform tuition would be absolutely aggregious, to say nothing of illegal. The dissonance is incredible. How can he suggest uniform tuition while criticising minimum tuitions?

Fern Chasida-As far as I know, all tuition assistance documents are processed in house. And the documents are pretty detailed. Beyond wanting to know how much equity is in your home all of your assets, they ask how much money your children make as camp counselors and babysitters!

See my last post for some musings about security of such info. I'm not sure I'd be willing to submit to an outside agency. I'm certainly not interested in having this information in the community!

JS said...

This letter is so wrong and so backwards I don't even know where to begin. It's so indicative of what's wrong with the system and why the system is collapsing. What's most infuriating is that the letter writer doesn't even realize he's Nero watching Rome burn as he fiddles.

We have yeshivas not paying staff, parents unable to afford tuition, and the biggest problem the letter writer sees is that mechanchim aren't coming away with enough self-esteem. The poor mechanchim are the ones to be concerned about as parents selfishly try to find the lowest cost option. Somehow this shopping around is forcing immigrants to send to public school as well. Again, these selfish parents - sucking up all the scholarship monies like the parasites that they are.

There was a comment made over on HaEmtza (I think the last comment or so on the tuition article SL linked to yesterday) about the teachers. It's a tough issue, but I agree for the most part. Not paying teachers is one thing, and I don't agree with that obviously. But, it's not like teachers don't know about the low salary and other issues going in. It's not like they took a $100k job with great benefits and then the salary and benefits were suddenly cut by 50%. They know what they're getting into. There are no surprises. I don't even understand how we can talk about their self-esteem under these circumstances. I'm more concerned about the parents' "self-esteem" when they lose their jobs or experience cuts in salary/benefits.

This is just another misguided fool who thinks the parents have untapped resources they are selfishly hiding or not wanting to give up to the schools. Yes, some parents definitely lie and cheat on the scholarship forms. But, schools need to look at themselves as well to find out why the system encourages such bad behavior as well. And blaming competition and shopping around and lack of uniformity is not what I meant by looking internally to find the problems.

The entire population, as a whole, is not making enough money to support community-wide education. It's just a basic fact and anyone with their eyes open can see this. And this is what is so myopic about complaining that the teachers don't make enough.

Avi Greengart said...

The letter writer is confusing four separate issues:
1. Schools not paying their teachers on time (this is a clear violation of both labor law and halacha. I'm going to ignore the self-esteem crap because I otherwise agree with the writer: you work for wages, you get paid. Period.)
2. Schools charging different amounts of tuition and offering different tuition breaks (this is both a feature of a free market and reflects different school philosophies and circumstances. Getting schools to assess scholarship applications uniformly is a worthy goal; getting schools to set a uniform minimum tuition would probably help everyone though it is unrealistic when some decry the notion of a minimum tuition in the first place; getting schools to set a uniform overall tuition is ridiculous.)
3. Parents putting costs ahead of educational priorities (this is a shame when the parents are using the savings to vacation in Tahiti, but completely understandable when the alternative is public school. Besides, it isn't always black and white. We send our kids to the least expensive MO school in the area, and while we sometimes think a different school would be better... it's hard to say. The $aving$ are quantifiable. Hashkafic differences and their effect on educational quality for individual children - especially once teacher skill variability is introduced - is very hard to quantify)
4. Worthy scholarship recipients and immigrants finding that all available scholarships are taken (Look, it's pretty obvious that there isn't enough money in the system to privately educate every Jewish child whose parents can't pay. In that environment, should scholarship committees prioritize already frum children, or those who aren't frum yet? Tough call. It's a brutally difficult resource allocation issue, but it is really a separate issue from parents trying to find a school that they can afford and a completely separate issue from educators not getting paid on time.)

Anonymous said...

Maybe the writer is referring to the school in Staten Island that takes out of towners (from Brooklyn and NJ) for half the price of the stated tuition. Someone close to the school told me they'd rather have half-payers filling up the classroom than leaving classes unfilled.

gavra@work said...

Perhaps he is just upset that HE has not gotten paid for a while, and when they raised tuition to compensate for those who couldn't pay anymore, people left.

Perhaps a FINANCIAL PLANNER could have avoided some of his problem, but I agree with JS. Mechanchim know going in that they may not get paid on time.

Avi: the halacha is not so clear cut, it depends who does the actual hiring and only if that person is responsible to pay as well (to the best of my memory).

Thinking said...

Why doesn't he have any answers? He is a self proclaimed "veteran principal of 35 years". Shouldn't he have an insiders perspective on what the issues are? Why teachers don't get paid? Why quality of education is taking a back seat to price?

Once again the issue is the "tuition crisis", as if somehow the solution is raising more money through tuition.

I left chinuch because I could not consistently get paid on time. I couldn't live like that nor make my family endure it. I loved teaching, but was not willing to sacrifice my financial future and my children's futures to an administration and board that couldn't balance revenue and costs.

Anonymous said...

This letter writer is like corporate management complaining that he can't pay his staff because of the "unreasonable" or "wrong" customers. It is management's choice of prices (tuition) and management attracts or repulsess customers based on THEIR (tuition paying parents)opinions of value.

Middle class full tuition payers will eventually gravitate to situations where they are not subsidizing other tuitions. While some middle classers go on tution assistance, the newer generations don't make good salaries and then feel like going on tuition assistance. They eventually will demand (by voting with their dollars - ie going elsewhere) rather than tuitions assistance.

Anonymous said...

Thinking: If you love to teach, why don't you get a job in a public school or a private non-sectarian school? How about solomon scheter or an MO school. There is no reason to give up your passion because OJ schools don't pay properly.

Ahavah said...

I agree with Miami Al - collusion to fix pricing in any free market is against the law.

(Btw - This reminds me of the call to collude on shabbat robe prices and sales a couple of years ago.)

Why is it their solution is always to try and force the market to stick with unsustainable and outmoded models instead of responding the new market realities? The reality is that people haven't really been able to afford the tuition for years - this didn't just happen recently. Until now they could beg and borrow their way through it, but that was NEVER a good modus operandi to begin with. Things have to change, and drastically.

Thinking said...


Sorry, I meant chinuch. I loved being a Rebbi. MO schools in my area are having just as many financial problems as the more right wing schools.

I have also spoken with many rabbeim who currently feel "stuck". The situation has become unpleasant for many of them forced to wait until money is available and not getting paid on time. They would love to get out and do something else but either lack the education or are not prepared to start a new career at this point.

I am just happy that I had an alternative and left when I did.

Anonymous said...

Thinking: Too bad you had to leave. I'm glad you had an alternative.

It's outgareous that some schools keep their doors open by not paying the teaching staff. For those who say people know what they are getting into when going into chinuch, I think that's ridiculous. Sure you know that the pay for many will be low as compared to other careers, but that doesn't mean you are consenting to non-payment and chronicly late payment. That's like saying because someone knows a police officer's job is dangerous that they are somehow also consenting to driving a squad car with bad brakes and bald tires.

gavra@work said...

Anon 2:40:

In this day and age, it should be. "Non-payment and chronicly late payment" has been the norm for many schools for a long time, especially in ones that the principal would write to the Yated. Anyone working for a school should expect it to happen.

Avi Greengart said...

@gavra@work: in that case, we don't just have a tuition crisis exacerbated by the economy, we also have a school management crisis exacerbated by... chronic stupidity? (From what I can tell, the MO schools in my area pay their teachers on time.)

gavra@work said...


Its what happens when (as thinking pointed out) you have no skills, no education, and the incentives of reduced tuitions and being held up by the community as "in Klei Kodesh".

In that sort of situation, what do you expect? People are being "conditioned" (in a Pavlovian sense) to go into low paying jobs (if not non-paying in Kollel) and make the dependency that much worse.

DAG said...

I love all the ways people try to defend not paying teachers, with every excuse to get out of what the Torah says outright, TWICE in the same Pasuk (Vayikra 19:13 see Rashi on the 2nd half of the pasuk) .

I used to like to trip rabbis up on this one. I asked them to discuss the Pasuk of Lfina Ivar (Vayikra 19:14) and watch them give drashas about how the Torah is telling us to not cause others to sin, or not to give bad advice, on and on about Torah values and how careful we must always be, etc.

I would then tell them that the world would be a MUCH better place if you ¼ as Frum about the Pasuk RIGHT before that one.

Mike S. said...

1) Right wing schools were chronically late with payroll 50 years ago. The Rav making fun of this in the 1950's; complaining that the same Rabbbis coming to check his and Dr. Belikin's tzitzis were running ads in the Yiddish press begging for money to meet overdue payrolls.

2) The proposed collusion is clearly an antitrust violation. The Ivy league schools gut busted for this a quarter century ago.

3)Schools that are chronically late with payroll need to either raise more money, reduce payroll to what they can afford, or shut down. Whether that means larger class sizes, higher tuition or consolidating small schools will depend on local circumstances. However, if parents already have hit the limit to what they can afford, the costs must come down or the schools will need to find an outside source of income. The only one that might realistically be available is using the building over the Summer.

4) A larger fraction of the community must work, and we have to restore some sense of shame in dependency. I have heard many people say they could earn more but don't bother because the schools would just lower their aid. I couldn't bear to act that way.

Jeffrey said...

I used to think that shopping for schools (partially) based on tuition was distasteful. After all, don't we all want the "BEST" for our children? Then the big recession hit and I began to change my opinion. If sending children to a pricey school means putting your retirement in jeopardy or not having savings in case of emergency, I don't think you're doing your kids a favor by sending them to a pricey school.
I'm not aware of any mitzvah to live on the financial brink so that my kids can have AP French and a model UN at school.

Maybe if the choice were between a Chasidishe Yeshiva that didn't teach English and pricey school, I might go with the pricey school. Maybe if we only had 1 or 2 children I might go with the pricey school. But absent these circumstances, I'll go for saving the money every day. DOn't let anyone tell you that finances are going to improve anytime soon. I think we've just seen the tip of the iceberg.

Charlie Hall said...

Regarding schools not paying employees on time; that was covered both in this week's parsha and in the talmud tractate on which just I made a siyum this Shabat (Bava Metzia). I don't understand how a school that repeatedly fails to pay employees can call itself an Orthodox school. That we tolerate this questions our own commitment to Torah observance.

We crticize the Conservative movement for picking and choosing halachot. It seems clear that there is really no difference between them and us; we just choose different halachot to obey.

Orthonomics said...

Charlie-I believe that I wrote I no longer choose to criticize Reform and Conservative Jews who "pick and choose" picking and choosing is alive and well in our quarters.

Jeffrey-Agreed! There is no mitzvah to endanger home's financial foundation to seek the "BEST." We can seek what interests our children and will enhance their education and development through other avenues, and many parents all over America do just that.

Gave A Get said...

AS this is an economics blog, I think that shopping around for price is one of the parameters that should be part of the decision making process.

Schools that offer a better level of service should charge more and parents that can afford those services either because they simply can or because they are willing to sacrifice in other areas should be able to procure those services.

This letter is a further indication of the deteriorating state of the Orthodox economy. As a group, the leadership will need to do more than set a price standard, that has been proven ineffective at controlling prices.

Anonymous said...

I was an employee who was often paid late and it had a bad affect on my financial situation and marriage, and I almost lost my house. When I talked with the administration about this, they said that I should have been prepared for this when I decided to become a teacher. These were the same people who woould never even think of going to a wedding with mixed seating.

Orthonomics said...

That is terrible Anon.

Charlie Hall said...

Anonymous August 30, 2009 12:50 PM,


Why would anyone want to be a teacher if this is the way they are treated?

I think the community needs to rise up and refuse to send their kids to these non-Orthodox schools.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hall:
To their credit several parents stood up for the teachers and insisted that they be paid. Unfortunately, the administration used this as an excuss to raise tution the following year. Funny thing was that the administration consistently receive cost of living increases of 5 to 6 percent and merit bonuses,and I don't think that they ever missed recieving a paycheck. One guy, a rabbi no less, even made of point of showing off his new Lexus.

Miami Al said...

But that reinforces my point. The teachers are not "paid late." If each month your payroll falls one month further behind, you are being paid at a rate 11/12 (or 8/9 whatever the system the school is) of your contract rate. You aren't going "unpaid," you're simply playing a shell game with the school where the stated salary is higher than the real one.

As a result, the schools are ALWAYS in the red. If someone leaves, the school simply doesn't pay money owed, or plays games with it, or pays it, depending on the whim of the "man in charge."

It's all a shell game, that keeps the staff under the thumb of administration, not because they control their future paychecks, but by withholding previous ones.

If everyone is on 12 months of payroll, only 11 of which are paid, then going into that job requires understanding that. If one likes being an entrepreneur, he likewise needs to realize that pay may be irregular to say the least.

But, it creates another dependency cycle, because salaries are not based upon the market, or even contracts, but rather, whoever controls the checkbook.

Since the people in these roles have no better alternative elsewhere, they are stuck in those positions, and further stuck with fraudulent salaries.

As an added benefit, this structure GUARANTEES that no matter how much money is raised, donated, paid in tuition, etc., the school is ALWAYS in the red. This keeps them all on the crisis list, sucking resources out of productive parts of the economy.

Zach Kessin said...

Is there not some office of the state of New York that will take legal action when workers are not paid, why has no one called them? It is very clear to me that absent that the schools will never change their ways.

Thinking said...

If you want to know why the school is in its current state, look no further than this interview with their Exec Director. I could not help laughing out loud when I read it and would never give a dime to the school as long as he is there. The poor guy is beyond lost.

Some of the more incredulous stats:
-They lost 400 students, but did not cut any staff.
-They only charge $4K per student.
-He states that losing 400 students cost the school $2 million. My math says that's $1.6 mil, but what's $400K here or there?
-He states "Let's say we could raise $4 million now, we could coast for 60 years. After all, we haven't bothered anyone for the last 60 years." Really??? $65K per year should tide you over???

I am not sure why the school chose to let him be interviewed, but they did not do themselves any favors with this one.
Good luck to them!

Dave said...

The state needs to know about it to get involved.

Given the enormous social pressures in the Orthodox community against getting the government involved, I'm not surprised you don't see state action.

Orthonomics said...

Thanking-Simply nauseau inducing. This will be one of the posts I link to this week, bli neder.