I want to publicly thank Julie for covering this very important issue and informing us all of some of the efforts going on behind the scenes to keep tuition under control. I also want to thank the administration at the various schools for putting in all of the hours to gather all of the information and provide it to YU so this very important initiative could be performed.
Day Schools Saving Millions In New Efficiency Effort
In response to a crisis of affordability sweeping through the day school world, a new effort to have schools practice greater efficiency has resulted in savings of tens of millions of dollars for nearly 40 Jewish day schools across the nation.
While common in the corporate world, benchmarking — a process in which institutions measure their performance against that of their peers, in order to identify cost-saving and revenue-enhancing opportunities — is a new arrival in the Jewish day school world, whose myriad financial challenges include a “tuition crisis.”
Eight Bergen County schools have gone through a round of benchmarking under the guidance of YU, and according to Samuel Moed, chairman of Jewish Education for Generations in Northern New Jersey, the process has already saved a combined $2.5 million.
Currently working with 30 additional schools (Orthodox, Conservative and pluralistic) in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland. The YU School Partnership and the Avi Chai Foundation, the project’s lead funder, hope ultimately to bring benchmarking to at least 200 day schools in 30 communities, including ones in New York City and its suburbs.
Bloom estimates that benchmarking and the strategic planning that follows is on track to achieve combined savings of at least $22.5 million — approximately 10 percent of operating budgets — over three years in the five communities in which it is being implemented so far.
Proponents say the process not only helps schools operate more efficiently and sustainably — making more money available for scholarships and educational improvements — but also encourages collaboration among schools that once largely saw each other as competitors.
For skeptics, however, it’s too little, too late for a field facing major financial challenges, akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Indeed, the emergence this year of three brand-new, low-tuition Jewish day schools and a growing willingness among day school families to explore public schools and Hebrew charter schools, indicates a demand for more dramatic solutions.
Gershon Distenfeld, who is on the board of JEFG, recently wrote in the New Jersey Jewish Standard that while he continues to see benchmarking and fundraising as critical, “at the same time, I’ve become convinced that we must take bold steps now to alleviate the tremendous financial burden placed on the overwhelming majority of day school families.”
Explaining his decision to help launch the new low-tuition Yeshivat He’Atid, Distenfeld wrote, “Incremental changes are important and can lead to transformation over time, but the clock is ticking and it is time for a major initiative that will transform day-school education, while setting it on a sustainable path for future generations.”
How does it work?
Schools provide the YU School Partnership with a wide array of financial and statistical data — spanning tuition, scholarship details, staff compensation, maintenance and capital expenses, enrollment numbers, faculty-student ratios and fundraising revenues. The YU School Partnership analyzes the data from all participating schools in the community then, while keeping the findings confidential, develops a report for each school detailing how it stacks up against the communal average.
Yavneh Academy, a benchmarking participant in Paramus, N.J., recently decreased tuition by $100 — a small percentage of the more than $14,000 that full-paying students spend each year in tuition and fees, but a symbolic reversal for a school that is believed to have never before lowered tuition.
For Yavneh, benchmarking has spurred a closer look at class sizes and encouraged the school to step up the responsibilities and training for its assistant teachers, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, the principal, told The Jewish Week. The school is also exploring “technology initiatives” that allow it to “simultaneously enhance education while reducing overhead costs,” he said.