Continuing the conversation – ‘Today’s crisis should not have been a surprise’
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Continuing the conversation – ‘Today’s crisis should not have been a surprise’

As someone who, many years ago, was involved in day school administration, I have read the various letters and columns written about the day school disaster with concern, amusement, and anticipation.

It was once the sole job of principals to manage the day-to-day functioning of the educational curriculum. It was accepted that they were hired by the school and responsible to the board. In addition, there was an education committee, composed of community educators and a few parents, that worked with the principal to arrive at the accepted curriculum. The education committee prioritized needs and, together with the board of directors, approved what the budget could support. Not all was given blanket approval. In the early ’70s, this began to change. New titles were invented, such as “rosh yeshiva,” formerly only used for heads of smicha programs, and “head of school.” New titles meant higher salaries and a desire for greater power. The involvement of education committees and boards decreased. Boards became younger and wealthier with less time for oversight. The “rosh yeshivas” told boards everything could be paid for by raising tuitions.

Then the rosh yeshivas started to become more involved in school PR. Wearing two hats meant that they needed assistance to do their jobs. Salaries of the new style principal went up at a greater rate than teacher salaries. Department heads were introduced in elementary schools. It became a point of pride – the more top heavy the administration, the better the school. No concern for budget was even discussed. Just raise tuition.

Today’s crisis should not have been a surprise.

It seems that officers and boards have resigned, do not exist, or have headed for the hills. The heads of the school boards, with the responsibility of hiring a principal, should be explaining why they gave up the obligation to oversee the budget. It is their task to set a budget, raise the funds, and see to it everyone lives within the budget. If the current national financial crisis has taught us anything it is that money alone does not buy success.

It is about time for parents to assert their rightful demands of the boards of directors. Time to demand that board members stand up and fulfill their obligations and to go back to hiring full-time principals responsible to the boards. Time that salaries for principals are within budget. Time to stop one-upmanship. Time for local Jewish leadership, synagogue presidents, and rabbis to become more involved in funding Jewish education and for the Jewish community to demand transparency from all organizations. All expenses, including salaries, should be reported to the people providing the funds. It is good to hear that local rabbis are starting a fund for Jewish education. However, for it to succeed there must be widespread participation and full disclosure. There is no mention in their mission statement about how funds will be monitored or a means of complete and public accounting of how the funds are spent.

While some schools may be reducing administrative costs for next year, this is being done without public statement and would, if true, begin to set an example for other schools to follow. Many are just reducing tuition by reducing services previously included in the published tuition schedule. In effect, there is actually a net increase in next year’s tuition.

There is talk of trying to get tuition credits to help parents pay for secular education. However, this must include a clear statement that all funds raised will go toward reducing tuition costs and not create new programs to enhance egos and raise salaries.

Transparency: the key to regaining trust in lay leadership and to containing and reducing administrative costs and tuition costs in return.

Good luck.

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