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Conservative Umbrella Group Lays Off 12 Staffers as Fiscal Woes Bite

The Conservative movement’s umbrella group, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has laid off a total of 12 full-time and part-time employees, the Forward has learned.

Steven Wernick

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the USCJ, said the reductions, about 10% of the staff, would save the organization about $1 million annually — about the size of its anticipated budget deficit for 2013. Wernick said the USCJ had to make “cuts perhaps deeper than we were happy to [make].” But he added that the USCJ is “moving to a balanced budget.”

The USCJ has been under financial pressure for several years. Its budget deficits for 2011 and 2012 were each about $3 million. The organization has been squeezed by a decline in dues from member congregations and by what had been a weak fundraising effort.

Wernick said dues collection “continues to be a challenge,” but he also said that fundraising was improving, although not as quickly as he had hoped.

The USCJ raised $100,000 in unrestricted funds for the 2010 fiscal year and increased contributions dramatically, to $500,000 in the most recent fiscal year. Wernick said the USCJ has about $1 million in commitments for the forthcoming fiscal year, when it celebrates its centenary.

“The needle is moving in the right direction,” Wernick said. Nevertheless, “serious turnarounds” take about five to seven years, and the USCJ is now only “entering year four.”

On June 10, the USCJ announced several measures to bridge its budget gap.

The group said it would perform “a cost-benefit analysis on converting some of our extensive real estate assets to cash as a way to replenish its reserves.” It also announced that it would close Koach, the USCJ’s college outreach program, on June 30.

Wernick said that most of the layoffs are in operations and finance.

The USCJ’s full-time staff has been reduced to 90 people from 99. An additional three part-time employees have also been cut loose.

Contact Paul Berger at [email protected] or on Twitter, @pdberger

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