Friday, June 22, 2007

Our Schools & Tuition (again)

Rabi Shea Hecht has written two op-ed pieces on over the last few weeks speaking about the problem of the average person paying for school tuition.

His first article is directed mainly at the issue of shluchim who, in general, find it difficult to meet the costs of schooling. This piece had dozens of quite heart-rending comments from parents who brought up the point that it is not just shluchim who have this problem. If one has a large family, as frum Jews are encouraged to, it is almost impossible to meet the burden of school fees unless you are almost a millionaire.

In his second, much longer, article Rabbi Hecht concentrates more on the average person - he obviously read the comments on his first article. Many of the points he brings up apply to the American scene where the schools do not get any government funding unlike Australia. Many of his other points are applicable here if the administration of the Yeshivah & Beth Rivkah would care to look at them seriously.

A few points, some of which I have raised previously, come to mind when thinking about our schools and the tuition crisis.

  • The first point is one which has been raised repeatedly and in many forums - the lack of accountability and transparency with regard to the finances of the Yeshivah Centre. This impacts on many areas, not the least fundraising, where potential donors do not give as much as they might due to the perception of a "black hole" in which their money ends up. I am not advocating that salaries of individual employees should be revealed or that individual donations should be publicised. What I am talking about is publishing a balance sheet so that we can get some idea what the money is being spent on and how much things such as utilities, wages etc actually cost.
  • It is a well know fact that our school fees are inflated to cover the shortfall of parents who cannot pay full fees. We keep on being told that the schools have no money therefore parents who are not paying these (inflated) fees are made to feel inferior that they are "letting the team down".
  • In actual fact I do not believe that the schools are as badly off as they make out. The government gives funding to schools here (unlike the US) which amounts to a fairly large amount per child. But then again, maybe I am wrong and the schools do face a severe financial shortfall. This comes back to my first point - how do we know what the situation really is if we are not provided any information of where the money goes to.
  • The current CEO of the Yeshivah Centre has done a wonderful job in the past of arranging funding and grants from both government and charitable foundations. I do not know if she has time these days to devote appropriate energy to this area but it would appear that this is what she is good at and should concentrate on.
  • Over the past few years the Yeshivah Centre has held a few fundraising dinners. We are told that money is being set aside to attract Jewish children to the schools who now attend secular schools. That concept is wonderful and in line with the principles of Chabad. But at the same time as secular parents are being offered financial incentives our parents are being pressured even more - and sometimes quite roughly. As frum parents we have no choice but to send our children to Jewish day schools. As Chabad parents we are locked into sending our children to Chabad schools. And as Chabad parents our families are usually bigger than non-chassidic families which means that we have to come up with much more money for tuition than families with 2 or 3 children. There are people in the administrative staff who do not understand or appreciate why our familes are bigger than the average and at the very least need some education in Chabad values and customer service.
  • Lastly, and on a somewhat positive note, at least our teachers are paid in a timely manner. It is not uncommon to hear of teachers in New York not being paid for months on end.

After writing all the above I really do not know what difference any of it will make. I doubt that anyone from the "powers that be" will bother to read this let alone take it seriously. Despite many, many people in the community saying similiar things the excuse is always that it is only one or two people stirring up trouble. Surely it is about time that the PTB and the administration of the colleges treated their customers (ie. us) seriously and with respect and, if not including us in the decision making process, at least kept us informed of their decisions and the reasons for them.