Volume 55 Number 31
                    Produced: Mon Aug  6  4:47:14 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Finances and Judaism (2)
         [Eitan Fiorino, Shoshana L. Boublil]


From: Eitan Fiorino <AFiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2007 17:48:25 -0400
Subject: RE: Finances and Judaism

> From: Mordechai Horowitz <mordechai@...>

> The Rabbi's at the schools are extremely well paid.  (Much more than I
> make) for working half a day and summers off.  They like to cry poor
> but clearly the Rabbinic establishment is taking care of itself well.
> I'll never afford the hotels or the kosher cruises they go on.  No
> summer in the catskills for me.  No yearly trip to Israel.  And they
> do take 2nd jobs with their free time.  Charging parents to tutor
> their children after school, or sometimes charging adults to learn
> with them.  Torah is a very good business proposition.
> For the rich who can afford the schools the improvements may be nice.
> If the Rabbi's in yeshiva didn't all pretend to be starving I might
> have made a different career choice and gone into education for pay,
> rather than volunteering my extra hours helping run programs in the
> community.
> Unless you are prepared to donate millions, tuitions either must come
> down dramatically or large numbers of children will be left out of the
> system.  All Jews aren't rich and schools and Jewish institutions
> aren't great on scholarships.  Even when they are they take away your
> dignity as you come before the "committee" 1040 at hand begging for a
> discount.  When the schools wants volunteer work out of us of course
> its a mitzva of course.

Although others, some with considerable experience in Jewish education,
have already written in, I feel I must add my voice in response to this
email.  I serve on the Board of Trustees of the Bergen County NJ modern
Orthodox yeshiva elementary school that my children attend and, while I
haven't been doing this for a long time, I have some direct experience
with the issues at hand.  I should add that I do not see myself as a
defender of entrenched day school structures or paradigms and so I do
not write from a defensive posture.  That having been said, I feel I
must correct what I view as gross misrepresentations of the reality that
I see.

It is true that the vast majority of yeshiva day school expenses are
personnel costs - faculty, administration and support staff.  But let's
make one thing clear - in contrast to this writer's opinion that faculty
and administration have found the equivalent of a lottery ticket and are
laghing there way to the bank, the reality in Bergen County is that they
are not particularly well paid, and they work extremely hard. I don't
have the longitudinal perspective to know if pay has improved
meaningfully more than the cost of living in the past 30 years, but if
that is the case then this is a good trend that ought to continue.  If
we want some meaningful percentage bright young observant Jews coming
out of college or graduate school to go into teaching, then teaching
must provide a compensation level (in combination with other issues like
quality of life) that is at least reasonable on an absolute basis, if
not attractive compared to the many other more lucrative professions out
there.  That having been said, in the NY area and I suspect in many
other places, teaching at a day school is hardly the route to riches, or
frankly, hardly the route to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle.
Summers off (during which many teachers work a second job at camp which
also allows them to save on camp tuition) and tuition breaks - these are
perks to try to level the economic playing field a bit with the other
professions.  My childrens' teachers, of whom there have been dozens,
work very hard to provide creative lessons, learn new curricula, and
provide detailed feedback and performance assessments.  As far as the
administration goes, I can say from personal experience that
administrative jobs can be extremely demanding, easily requiring
multiple late nights every week and many many Sundays.  And don't be so
naive to think that because school is out for a few months in the summer
that it is a holiday for the administration - that is just flat out
wrong; it is in some ways the most productive time of year because there
are generally fewer emergent issues and crises to deal with.

As anyone who has followed the cost of college education knows,
educational costs appear to rise at a few percent higher rate than
inflation or more - this has been true since I graduated from high
school over 20 years ago.  Our local school system (which puts out a
decent but by no means fantastic educational product) has a per pupil
annual cost of about $15,000 - comparable with local day schools that
are implementing a dual curriculum.  This is not a specifically Jewish
problem.  Again, my experience is limited to Bergen County and I
recognize this is an affluent area, but the schools here provide a
significant amount of scholarship support and I believe that no child
would be excluded from a day school education for economic reasons.  In
fact, I am not aware of any Orthodox child in Bergen County in a public
school for economic reasons AND I know there are families with multiple
children who pay no tuition at all.  Yes, scholarship committees want to
see tax returns - would you believe that people try to cheat the system?
(answer - yes, they do).  And some people feel that day school tuition
ought not interfere with their ability to renovate their house, lease 2
new cars every couple of years, and visit Israel on an annual basis.

Of course, that does not mean that it is still not a struggle for many
to pay tuition even with scholarship support.  Of course, no matter how
discrete the scholarship committee is, there will be people who simply
refuse to ask for what is in their view a "handout."  In truth,
scholarship is an inefficient tool for generating communal support for
Jewish education because it only spreads the combined scholarship needs
over the existing parent body.  The crisis in day school costs will
eventually require the entire community to shoulder some of the costs,
and the crisis is only worsening year by year (especially given the
ever-expanding number of young modern Orthodox who apparantly hold by
the psak that birth control is assur no matter how limited the emotional
and economic capacity of the parents - I'm not aware of any scholarship
committees who recommend birth control pills!)

> From: <asapper@...> (Art Sapper)
> Rabbi Elazar Teitz writes: " The real problem is that the 
> Jewish community does not consider education its first priority."
> The real problem is that the Jewish community is in competition with
> its own tax dollars.  State and county governments force us and
> everyone else through taxation to support public schools, which then
> consume the available teachers and land using those tax dollars.  The
> Jewish community must then struggle to compete to hire teachers and
> purchase and maintain land and buildings with dollars that we must
> raise voluntarily.  We can never win this struggle.  We must have
> tuition vouchers, for every study shows that Jewish day education is a
> major bulwark against assimilation
> But there is another aspect to the matter.  Every Jewish community is
> being drained of millions of dollars every year to support public
> schools to which we cannot in good conscience send our children.
> Jefferson observed that "[t]o compel a man to furnish contributions of
> money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors
> is sinful and tyrannical."  That is our situation exactly.

I must also say I strongly disagree with these comments (and believe me,
in Bergen County property tax rates are out of control).  I support the
concept of public schools and that they are supported by all citizens -
I think public schools are an important part of the fabric of American
culture and are a positive force in our society. Even though I have
chosen to opt out, I do not resent that my obligation to support my
local schools remains.  My neighbors whose children graduated from the
local public schools years ago do not complain about their ongoing
obligation.  Yes, they received a tangible benefit from the local
schools, but so do Orthodox communities - many local school district pay
for busing, and all of them provide special ed programs to Orthodox
children who will never attend the local school district.  Strong public
schools are a clear positive for the broader local community and help
maintain property values.  I think attempts by Orthodox Jews to take
over school boards and massively slash costs not only generate enormous
bad will and sully the reputation of the entire Orthodox community, but
they are likely to turn out to be self-destructive because if
successful, a town with ruined schools will not remain a viable
community even if the majority of residents are Orthodox.

As for the Jefferson quote and the argument implied by it - that is a
completely preposterous straw man argument which basically posits that
"because I don't agree with what is taught in public schools, I should
therefore not have to pay taxes to support them."  I am much more
offended by much of the "propagation of opinions" that come out of the
mouths of our President and members of Congress than by what is taught
in my local public schools - does that mean I should withold my federal
taxes?  Come on, get real.


From: Shoshana L. Boublil <toramada@...>
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2007 14:50:19 +0300
Subject: Re: Finances and Judaism

> From: <mp@...> (Mark Polster)

> 1) We have too many schools.  If the previous generation was
> characterized by one major day school per reasonable sized community,
> now we seem to have a different school starting up for each 1/2-inch
> difference in skirt length or type and size of kippah.  All of them are
> struggling.  Economies of scale are real and if administrative and other
> overhead can be spread over 600 kids instead of 300 it makes a real
> difference.  Unfortunately, in today's Jewish world, the notion of
> sending our kids to a school where everybody is not perfectly aligned
> hashkafically seems to be unacceptable so I am not holding my breath.

> From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
> Date: Fri, 03 Aug 2007 03:42:53 -0400
> Subject: Yeshiva tuition

> So here we have the proverbial horns of a dilemma: the public schools
> are suffering, both from a shortage of bright students from good homes
> and from a lack of financial support from their families, while a
> parallel religious + secular school system is built with great financial
> burdens on the still-minority orthodox community. Of course, this is a
> uniquely American problem, with our traditions of strict separation of
> church and state, which incidentally, has served us so well.

When I first read the title and contents of these posts, I thought it
was indeed a uniquely American problem.  But actually it isn't.  The
Dati Leumi sector in Israel is heading in the same disastrous direction,
though for different reasons.

We have in Israel state religious public schools (Mamlachti Dati, MM"D).
Over the years the demographics and religious levels have changed, but
the people in charge of the Ministry of Education were totally unwilling
to realize the impact of this change on the educational requirements,
added to which we had several non-religious Ministers of Education,
starting with Shulamit Aloni, who did their best to further limit
Judaica studies in the MM"D.

Added to this problem was a new virus, that has caused a true epidemic
of "my kid will NOT go to the same school as your kid".  The reasons are
as varied as the many reasons for bigotry.  The excuses are based on
fear and not on needs and truth.

The result of these 2 issues is that nowadays we have MM"D which is
slowly dying for lack of pupils, and side by side we have private
schools, that are funded by the parents and cost a fortune.  Not only
that, but in a school district that used to have one large school with 8
first grades, with all the resources concentrated there, we have now 3-4
elementary schools, vying for the same pupils and the same community

When you come to highschool, MM"D high schools are shutting down and
being replaced by expensive yeshivot and ulpanot replacing them.  I wish
that those same funds and energy could have gone into upgrading the MM"D
schools, it would have been better for our communities.

To compare, most Yeshivot/Ulpanot have 1-3 classes per grade.  At our
local Blich (the secular highschool) they have 16 classes per grade.
What does this mean?  Choices -- with so many students, the school can
offer a wider range of special topics and specialties.  The school can
afford advanced labs, modern technology and whatever is needed.

B/c the highschool is a city highschool, it is funded by the City Hall,
and as with a city like Ramat Gan where education is very important --
lots of additional funds are earmarked for education, but it goes mostly
to the public highschools, not to the private ones.

When I was in elementary school, MM"D, about 30% came from secular
homes.  But they knew that they had to respect the school's stance on
all matters.  The claim is that these students influenced the more
religious ones.  That hasn't been my experience.  Many of those who came
from secular homes became religious, but the others at least know some
basic Judaism and respect it.  Nowadays, things are literally a mess.

Perhaps it's time that parents got together in Israel as well, and
forced a change on the system - return to the MM"D system, but force the
ministry to upgrade the schools, similar to what Mark Polster is
suggesting.  Or at least, cut the costs by adding the additional
curriculum on top of the MM"D one.

Shoshana L. Boublil


End of Volume 55 Issue 31