Thursday, December 29, 2011

If You See Something Say Something, Take 2

 [NOTE: My post from yesterday on scholarship abuse generated a lot of comments that indicated a misunderstanding of my points.  I can only conclude that I wasn’t clear in my original post so I will try to make my points again a little differently here]

Applicants for scholarship are required to fill out forms indicating their costs, income, assets and other relevant information.

Scholarship committees use that information to determine a families need for tuition assistance and allocate assistance based on that need.
Unfortunately, a small amount of the scholarship applications contain missing or fraudulent information.  Intentionally misleading a the committee is both an aveira and a crime, since the applications contain affidavits attesting to the that they are accurate and complete, under penalty of perjury.

There have been rare instances where schools have caught people lying and revoked their scholarships.  There are undoubtedly some other cases of fraud that have not been detected.  Schools need to use all means available to catch and deter abuse.  Such means include checking with the IRS to see if the W-2’s match their records and checking their houses to see if the reported home values on the applications are reasonable.

We need to help the schools in their efforts.  If you have information suggesting that someone is committing fraud please do not keep it to yourself.  I have heard people tell stories about abuse at the Shabbat table and on blogs.  I encourage, and the schools encourage, people to come forward with that information (privately) just as they should come forward with information on any other crime being committed.  When you come forward with information you are not necessarily concluding that a crime is being committed.  You are simply saying that there is reason to suspect a crime is taking place.  It is up to the proper authorities, in this case, the scholarship committee to determine if fraud has in fact taken place.  If the scholarship committee determines that in fact no fraud has taken place than the matter can be dropped without any harm done.

Such information can include someone confiding in you that they were dishonest on their forms.  Or it could be witnessing someone that you know to be on scholarship spending tens of thousands of dollars in luxury items, indicating that they MAY not truly be in need of assistance.

I am not asking anyone not on a scholarship committee to make a determination as to who should or should not qualify for a scholarship or how anyone should spend their money.  I am just asking them to report instances where fraud may be occurring.

I hope I've made myself clear.  I don't think this should be too controversial.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Are WE the problem?

Brigham Young University is a private University in Utah that is owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints.  Tuition per semester, according to the schools website, is $2,280 for LDS members and $4,560 for non-members.
At Catholic elementary schools, the average per pupil tuition is $3,383 which is approximately 62.2 % of actual costs per pupil of $5,436. That according to National Catholic Educational Association (
To be sure, costs for staff & many other expenses are lower in other parts of the country than they are in BC.  But an enormous part of the school costs, and the resulting lower tuition, come from funding from a centralized Church body.  The burden of paying for education does not fall entirely on those with school-age children.  People donate enormous sums of their wealth (10% by many in LDS) to the central church which in turn funds religious schools, among other things.  People in these communities also often leave significant portions of their wealth in their estates to the churches.
In Judaism, there is no central authority.  At least there hasn’t been a universally recognized one for the past 2,000 years.  But that is no reason why there can’t be significant voluntary donations that would help defray tuition costs.  While the mandatory contributions, in the form of tuition, have to come from after-tax dollars, the voluntary contributions are tax-deductible and could be paid for with much greater ease.
Unfortunately, a culture of pettiness and selfishness engulfs our community.    When schools instituted a Scholarship Fund to be paid by parents along with tuition word got out that the schools couldn’t legally require payment of it.  Many people said they couldn’t afford to pay it.  But sure enough, once it became mandatory, nearly everyone paid it.  So we cheated ourselves out of $2500 tax deductions.  Congratulations. 
If only we had the sense of community that the Mormons and Catholics had we would less of a tuition crisis.  People whose kids have grown up and have the most means and least expenses would be subsidizing the younger parents who are mostly at the beginnings of their careers and can least afford to pay.
NNJKIDS was formed to help address this problem.  So far they are collecting enough to cover about 2% of school costs.  We could be doing much better and we should be doing much better.
Yes, schools need to be doing a better job of cutting costs. But WE need to do a better job of raising revenue. There’s blame to go around for the crisis we are in.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Channukah Days Off

Noam and YNJ are off Friday and Monday.  Yavneh is off Monday, BPY has off at noon on Monday

Whats the deal with that?  Is it about giving non-Jewish employees a day off for Christmas, which is on Sunday this year?  For that do they need both Friday and Monday?  Is there no way the school can function for one day without the non-Jewish employees?  I would understand giving the day off on Christmas day itself in consideration to the bus drivers and neighbors but this year there really is no excuse.

We’re working hard to pay tuition bills and we get slapped in the face by schools giving completely unnecessary days off and making it really hard on the parents.  No, the teachers aren’t just babysitters but having them in school does in fact perform that function (among other functions). 

He’atid announced at the open house that they will have classes on election day (to wild applause).  I hope they will also have classes on Channukah.  Time to put the needs of the parents and the educational needs of the children ahead of the convenience of the faculty.  We have 20 or so less days than the public schools and we should try to make up every day we can.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marketing Expenses

Here’s a very nice video made by Yavneh to promote their school:

Similar ones can be found on Noam and BPY’s websites.  Some of them may have been made by volunteers but some had credits at the end that seem to imply that they were made by outside companies.

The Jewish Standard is littered with ads promoting every local Day School.   Many of our minivans have glossy magnetic bumper stickers with our school's logos embossed on them.

From the perspective of each individual school, these marketing tools make sense.  Spend a couple hundred thousand on marketing and attract a few dozen more kids to your school every year.  But from the perspective of the entire community it is money down the toilet.  Every school is spending money competing with the other schools for the same prospective students.  (Surely we agree that no one who sends to public school will spend a fortune sending to a Yeshiva because of a full page color photo of some smiling kids in kippot and skirts.)

Wouldn’t it make sense for all the Yeshivot to get together and agree to limit marketing expenses to a certain amount per child?  Can’t this be a win-win for all involved?  For the lawyers out there would this violate an anti-trust provision?


[Note: I don't know why but on some browsers it says 0 comments below.  There are in fact some comments.  If you click on those words you will see them.]

Happy Channukah!

Many of us work in offices where, at this time of year, it is considered bad form to yell at another person or send a nasty email because it's not in the "spirit of the season."  As frum Jews who believe that "Derech Eretz Kadma L'Torah" we should have at least the same standards for civility as the secular world.  So during Channukah, lets focus on the flames and not the flame wars.  Let's remember that under Assyrian occupation, Jews had to put their lives on the line to be able study Torah.  Yes, we are all suffering from the high cost of tuition, but by historical standards this is a pretty good time and place to be a frum Jew.  B"H we have a lot of options for our children to study Torah and we are getting even more.  There is a need for criticism of the way the schools are run but that criticism should be done in a respectful manner, without impugning anyone's motives. 

[Editor's note: Ok, by popular demand I removed the option to comment under the name "anonymous".  However, in doing so I also removed the option to just add a screen name when you comment.  So for now in order to comment you must first register with Google, AIM, LiveJournal, Wordpress, TypePad, AIM, or OpenID.  You can still remain anonymous but your comments will have a name on them so they can be referenced by other comments without having to reference the time you posted it.  I am trying to change to using different blogging software such as IntenseDebate or Disqus, which will make it easier to have spam/trolling automatically filtered and will have other good features on them.  Please be patient while everything gets working properly.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How DOES He'atid Do It?

I think it’s a fair question to ask.  How can they sustain an all-in price of 40% less than the least expensive traditional day school in the area?  It gets asked on this blog a lot but often in such an attacking way that He’atid suppporters react angrily and the entire conversation devolves into a shouting match.  But it’s important to ask so other schools can try to emulate their model and we can have more low cost options.

He’atid claims it will reduce costs by: 
1.       Using blended learning to reduce the necessary teacher:student ratio

2.       Reducing administrative overhead

3.       Eliminating “Baked-In” scholarships in the tuition.  (Lower costs would result in less scholarship demand and remaining scholarship requirements would come from separate funds)
 My sources at Yavneh tell me that at a recent Q&A with the administration they were able to get the following information about how their tuition dollars were being spent.  I’m trying to square the He’atid claims of cost savings with Yavneh’s breakdown to see if the savings really add up.  I came up with the following:

1.       Yavneh spends about 80% of its budget on payroll and about 80% of that is on faculty.  So this is the majority of the spending & where cuts need to happen.  But at a recent He’atid meeting with Kindergarten parents they said that the class would have 20 kids with one teacher & one assistant.  If some parents double-registered & don’t send their kids to He’atid the ratio would be even lower.  So that’s a cost savings over Yavneh which has 2 teachers & an assistant in kindergarten.  But in the older grades most of the classes in Yavneh have only one teacher with a floating assistant teacher which He’atid plans on having as well.  So there are some savings to be had there but not a tremendous amount.
2.       Yavneh said 16% of its payroll expenses or 13% of its overall budget are for administration.  So cutting off a third of that saves about [CORRECTION:] 4.5% of the overall costs of running the school

3.       Scholarships.  Yavneh says it has a budget of $9.5m & 20% of the 695 students are on scholarship.   (Average 7K per scholarship student) On a typical year the scholarship totals about one million dollars.  The past 2 years with unemployment high its gone up to about $1.1m.  About $350K is raised in scholarship donations which means that about $1,000 of our tuition dollars funds scholarships.  This year with donations a little lower, enrollment a little down and scholarship needs still high it may go as high as $1500 per student.  (those who think that scholarship funds are fully funded from donors are wrong in Yavneh and every other Day School in the tri-state area)

Bear in mind that He’atid also has a rent expense and Yavneh’s building is paid off.  Building fund covers major capital improvements only.  Also He’atid will have tremendous technology expenses, both equipment and staff, to handle all the computers in every classroom.

All in all I can see He’atid cutting costs by 20%, but 40%?  Perhaps He’atid can give a detailed explanation of how they can do that.  Maybe I’m missing something.

Perhaps tuition will rise in the future.  If so, maybe that is all the more reason to enroll for this coming year.  If it’s a limited time offer I don’t want to miss out!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Welcome to the Yeshiva Sanity Blog!

Thank you all for visiting! The purpose of this blog is to facilitate a dialogue among Bergen County Day School parents, administrators, teachers and community leaders about how to run Yeshiva day schools in a manner that will be sustainable and will provide a high quality Torah and secular education for our children.

I want to thank 200K Chump for all of his hard work in facilitating an online dialogue on these issues for the past year and a half. I often disagreed strongly with what he said but I really do credit him with changing the conversation about Yeshivas in our area. While there has always been discussion among administrators, Board Members and trustees about trying to keep the Day School model sustainable, the voices of hundreds of anonymous blogging parents really convinced school administrators to make some drastic changes. Those voices also created an atmosphere that allowed for the creation of Yeshivat He’atid. Donors reading about how dire the situation was were convinced to support the new model. Parents who otherwise would not have heard about the school were informed about what was going on and became interested.

This is not to take anything away from the hard work done by founders of He’atid who are truly doing a wonderful service to the community. Nor is it a slight against the more traditional schools, their faculty, administration or Board. While I think there are some bad apples at every school, for the most part we are all working towards the same goal.

On a personal note, I have interests in both He'atid and traditional Day Schools. I hope they all succeed and I am not planning to shill for any particular school. Some of you who know me may be able to figure out who I am from the things I say but I ask that if you do figure it out you will keep it to yourself. Emotions sometimes run high & I don’t need someone confronting me in person about something said on this blog.

I am new at blog administration and would welcome any comments and/or suggestions about how it should be moderated. If you want your comment off-line, you can email me at will try to come up with new posts every week or so, as time allows. I will not allow comments that slander people by name or that are wildly off-topic. If I see a lot of name calling I will have to start deleting posts that do it, or at least take that part out of the comment. Other than that I will try to stay pretty hands-off. 

Let’s all try to be respectful of one another’s opinions and remember that we are role models to our children and we should behave in a manner that we would expect them, as B’nei and B’not Torah to act.