Making Day School Affordable

School in Kansas Slashed Tuition in Half To Keep Students

Radical Surgery: To stem declining enrollment, administrators at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas took the dramatic step of slicing tuition in half. More students stayed at the school, and donors and parents who could afford to pay more made up the shortfall.
hyman brand hebrew academy
Radical Surgery: To stem declining enrollment, administrators at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas took the dramatic step of slicing tuition in half. More students stayed at the school, and donors and parents who could afford to pay more made up the shortfall.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published February 06, 2012, issue of February 10, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

One Jewish day school in Kansas cut its tuition in half. Another school, in Oakland, Calif., grew its endowment 15-fold. And a third, in Houston, succeeded in recruiting families from as far away as New Jersey, Venezuela and Israel. These institutions embraced bold, even risky moves in an effort to generate revenue and boost enrollment, which has been dropping at many schools outside the ultra-Orthodox community.

According to recent Forward analysis of reports by the Avi Chai foundation, non-Haredi day schools are in a state of stagnation or decline. The Schechter Network of Conservative Judaism has lost 20 schools and 35% of its enrollment since the late 90s. Unaffiliated schools, commonly known as community schools, are barely holding steady. For day school proponents, the shrinking numbers and shuttered institutions represent a blow to the idea behind Jewish education, the notion that Jewish day schools are a key to Jewish continuity.

The economic downturn is a major factor in perpetuating the downward trend, with unemployed or underemployed parents simply unable to make hefty tuition payments. But there are other issues at play. In making the case to the many Jewish parents who see day school as an option rather than as a mandate, day schools face myriad obstacles: how to accommodate those with special needs, how to retain students beyond elementary school and how to provide academic offerings on par with private prep schools.

Each day this week, the Forward will be featuring a story of a day school that met such challenges and reversed its fortune.


HYMAN BRAND HEBREW ACADEMY (K–12)
Overland Park, Kan.
Enrollment: 242 students
Founded: 1966
Tuition: $6,800
Percent on financial aid: 50%

Until three years ago, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy was on the skids, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and about 5% of its students each year. The backslide was perplexing. The 20,000-person Kansas City Jewish community had shrunk over the years, but only slightly. Hyman Brand’s board began to wonder whether the source of the decline was in the school itself.

“The most glaring item that caught our eye is that the middle class seemed to have disappeared out of the school,” said Eric Kaseff, board president. “We had families that could afford full tuition and families that couldn’t come close, and very little in between.”

Fearing that the student body would dip below 200, Hyman Brand’s board decided to lure back the middle class by doing something considered taboo in the Jewish day school world: slashing tuition. In the 2008–2009 school year, the school reduced its annual tuition to $6,350, from $9,000 to $14,000 depending on the grade level.

To cover the shortfall, the school reached out to families that could afford it and asked them to donate the difference between the old tuition and the new one. And since the donation would be tax deductible, the school asked the families to tack on the money they would have been paying in tax on that gift.

Read the Forward’s entire week of coverage of creative solutions to problems facing day schools, including Naomi Zeveloff’s story on Welcoming Special Needs Students.

It seems to be working. According to Kaseff, about 40% of the families donated at least $10,000 per student on top of tuition. Private donors from the community helped make up the difference, giving $40,000 in the first year of the program.

Some good old-fashioned belt tightening also helped close the gap in the school’s operating budget. For example, Hyman Brand now has one principal overseeing the entire school, rather than its former model of having separate lower, middle, and upper school principals.

The school is still operating at a deficit, but it’s about $100,000 per year, down from $300,000 to $400,000.

What’s more, the middle class seems to be coming back. In the first year of the program, enrollment jumped to 222 from 212. This school year, another 20 students enrolled. Most of them are new recruits, but there are a few returnees. According to Kaseff, parents are unanimous in their appraisal. “They said, ‘Before, I was on financial aid, but now you have turned me into a donor,’” Kaseff said.

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at zeveloff@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @naomizeveloff


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!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • 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.