Monday, January 7, 2013

Open Letter from Westchester Day School

[UPDATE: Below is the 2008-2009 tuition schedule from WDS.  Compare to the current tuition schedule linked to on the right side of the screen.  Despite one year's exception tuition has going up, not down]

Open Letter on Day School Tuition

As WDS begins an exciting transition period, we wanted to take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to addressing the issue of day school affordability. In February 2010, in response to a deepening economic crisis, Westchester Day School received widespread accolades by lowering tuition for the first time in its history. This past Fall, WDS announced another bold initiative and reduced tuition rates in the lower grades by 25% as part of a multi-year plan designed to reset tuition rates across ALL grades over the next seven years. We again received praise from our community Rabbis and virtually the entire parent body, though a small group within Westchester has chosen to respond by opening a competing school.

Over the last four years, WDS has found ways both to cut costs and to increase revenues. This has allowed us to lower our tuition rates without sacrificing our superior educational product and nurturing environment. The latest phase of our initiative, announced this past October, reduced 2013-14 tuition rates in Ganon through 1st grade by approximately 25%, resetting tuition for 1st grade at $13,500 from over $18,500. The goal of our multi-year strategy is to reduce tuition by a significant amount each year for one additional grade so that after seven years the entire school will have a new tuition schedule. This means that over time, a family with three children enrolled in WDS can save over $100,000 (in today's dollars) from the new tuition schedule. In addition to our efforts to address tuition costs, we are very proud to have faithfully adhered to our tenet to not turn away students for financial reasons, as we provide close to 40% of our families with financial aid.

There are two key drivers that make this ‘reset’ sustainable. First, WDS has a debt-free balance sheet, thanks to a history of prudent expenditures, generous community-wide support from a very broad donor-base, and a profitable summer program. Second, our classes are currently operating under capacity, and therefore we can increase our class size without a commensurate increase in expenses. With more students, we can raise revenue and thereby provide lower tuition to our families. WDS is committed to this program, absent any extraneous factors, but only if we meet our enrollment targets – if we meet those targets, the program will fund itself going forward. In short, WDS has rolled out a carefully considered, sustainable model that will provide families with substantial tuition relief while maintaining our high quality of education.

By all measures this initiative should be met with excitement, energy and support. And, for the vast majority of our community, this has been true, and we thank you for your support. However, despite these efforts, a small group has decided to start up a competing school and has been actively recruiting WDS families, something never seen before in the Westchester area.

Over the past 65 years, Westchester Day School has prepared close to 2,000 students for the high schools and ultimately the universities of their choice, instilling them with a love of Judaism and a strong sense of community. WDS provides a proven academic program with a coveted accreditation by the Middle States Association on Elementary Schools, and is situated on a spectacular one-of-a-kind campus. Our talented faculty members, including our specialists (phys ed, music and art teachers, a librarian and a Learning Center team) bring a wealth of experience that cannot be replicated overnight. We take pride in our approach to differentiated learning that provides students with extra support or challenges, we offer stimulating extra-curricular activities, and our children benefit from valued staff members, including our school psychologist, nurse and social worker. Just like any school focused on 21st century education, we have rolled out pilot programs in blended learning, and supplemented our curriculum with computers, SMARTboards, and even our own iPhone app.       

Our pledge is to continue to focus on containing costs, but not to the detriment of the educational, emotional or spiritual growth of our students. We are not willing to do away with resource rooms, over-extend class sizes, hire more junior teachers or frequently turn over faculty in an effort to cut costs. While we will continue to experiment through pilot programs, we are not willing to adopt a new model until there is a curriculum (both general studies and Judaic studies) with a proven academic track record, and one that has demonstrated long-term financial sustainability.

Day schools around the country have a duty to serve their communities. If a community day school chooses to ignore the tuition issue, it ought to face pressure from its constituency.   That has never been the case with Westchester Day School, and is certainly not the case in 2013, as evidenced by our latest initiative. The concept of a new competitor directly undermines WDS’ multi-year strategy of lowering tuition through increased enrollment, putting more pressure on donors in the community and jeopardizing the prospects for tuition relief for all WDS families.  
As we kick off 2013, it is an exciting time for you to be part of the WDS family. You should take great pride in the school and the tremendous value proposition we offer to the community. We are once again taking a leading role in addressing day school affordability, while at the same time we continue to introduce innovative programming and provide a top notch education to our nearly 400 students.
We thank you for your continued support, and look forward to celebrating with you at the upcoming Annual Dinner on Saturday, January 12.

Dan Kosowsky
David Goldschmidt