Orthodox Union Proposes New Measures To Increase Revenues and Reduce Costs Tuition

By Karmel Melamed

Published May 08, 2009, issue of June 05, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Taking a page from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is urging yeshiva day schools not to waste a good crisis.

Cutting Costs: Rabbi Saul Zucker, the Orthodox Union’s direc-tor of day school services, proposed a new model for yeshivas.
Cutting Costs: Rabbi Saul Zucker, the Orthodox Union’s direc-tor of day school services, proposed a new model for yeshivas.

With operation costs climbing for schools, and tuition increases bearing down on parents amid the current crushing economic downturn, the O.U.’s Rabbi Saul Zucker laid out a revolutionary package of school cost-saving measures to a worried gathering of Jewish education officials in Los Angeles.

More radically, Zucker proposed a model for a new kind of yeshiva to stem parent flight in the face of rising tuitions. By taking a stripped down, no-frills approach, he said, yeshivas can be established that will offer parents a strong Jewish and secular education for only $6,500 to $7,000 per year.

“This is an amazing crisis,” said Zucker, the O.U.’s director of day school services, at the May 3 meeting. “The vision down the not-to-distant road if things continue on the way they are is that the entire yeshiva day school system in this country will implode in five years, according to my estimates, because of these high costs.” But the crisis also offers a “silver lining,” he said — an opportunity to innovate in ways that will help schools move forward in the long term.

Zucker proposed a six-point program, including a number of changes that would, on their own merits, modernize school operations. Among the steps Zucker proposed are:

*Establishing a health plan for yeshiva school employees nationwide, via the OU, that will be administered by a corporation that already insures tens of thousands of employees. This, Zucker said, would save individual yeshivas “tens of thousands of dollars” through the lower premiums that such an arrangement would make possible.

Zucker’s proposals include:

*Reducing energy costs by converting schools to alternative power sources, such as solar and wind. Zucker said the O.U. had located an agent willing to do a free assessment of conversion costs for individual schools. He suggested that the conversions themselves could be done at reduced rates via government subsidies now available.

*Setting up a kehilla, or community fund, via local Orthodox congregations to allow schools to broaden their fundraising base beyond the families of their students. Under this plan, congregational rabbis would promote donations of roughly $20 per month, to be automatically deducted from the bank accounts or charged to the credit cards of synagogue members to support nearby yeshivas.

*Using a professional grants consultant, to be made available via the OU, to identify government and private sources for additional financial support and draft the grant proposals to obtain the funds.

*Having yeshiva students, parents and faculty use and get others to use a custom Internet toolbar offered through the O.U. for their Web browser. With each click, corporate sponsors whose ads jump to the top of searches will contribute to a fund to be maintained by the O.U. and disbursed to the schools.

*Holding bingo fundraising events to generate income.

“Yes, I know there are some naysayers who think bringing up bingo is shameful and ridiculous,” Zucker said about the last proposal. “But there is a yeshiva school in Norfolk, Virginia, that has organized a weekly bingo night, with the help of parents, that has raised $300,000 per year for their school! The principal told me that without weekly bingo, they wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

Zucker said that his six-point program emerged from a summit of Jewish education officials in New York last January, at which some 20 initiatives were discussed. The schools involved ultimately agreed on six of them.

“What we came up with are mitigating measures to give the yeshivas some breathing room so they can pay their bills and operating expenses,” he said.

With a growing number of Orthodox families forced to consider removing their children from private Jewish schools due to their lack of financial resources, Zucker also proposed setting up a new kind of yeshiva day school.

“We have to consider setting up new schools that will provide an affordable option with larger student-to-teacher ratios, fewer administrators and maintenance staff, and fewer extracurricular programs,” he said.

For years, rising tuition costs have been a big issue with Orthodox families, many of which have a large number of children. Yearly tuitions currently can range from $15,000 to $20,000 per child. Zucker said his new model of affordable yeshivas is likely to have a student-to-teacher ratio of 25:1, as opposed to the current 18:1 in many schools. School sports and extracurricular activities would be offered only if there were volunteers to make them happen, he said. Computer labs would feature functional modern computers, but not necessarily state-of-the-art hardware.

Zucker stressed that the model was not just theoretical. While no school has been established along these lines yet, a group of parents in Englewood, N.J., is currently planning to launch one in the fall of 2010, Zucker said.

“We have to do something now to address this issue of tuitions, because doing nothing is not an option and will only lead to disasters for our school down the line,” he said.

School faculty and administrators attending Zucker’s symposium said they welcomed the O.U.’s efforts.

“I think there’s an impression that things might get worse in the future, and it’s definitely a problem,” said Seth Berkowitz, vice president of the Maimonides school in Los Angeles. “There are people that are not only putting their kids in public schools because it’s cheaper, but they’re also home-schooling them.”

Contact Karmel Melamed at feedback@forward.com.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.