Making day schools affordable to the middle class
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Making day schools affordable to the middle class

The Morris County model

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The Hebrew Academy of Morris County offers tuition discounts of 40 percent to parents earning $200,000. courtesy New Jersey Jewish News.

The Hebrew Academy of Morris County has paperwork that many parents of day school students in Bergen County would be happy to fill out.

In exchange for answering two financial questions – last year’s gross income and this year’s expected gross income – parents making between $130,000 and $200,000 can receive a “base tuition grant” that can cap tuition at less than half the full $18,000 price. (The exact amount depends on income and number of children in the school.)

Those making more than $200,000, and who have special circumstances, can still apply for the grants, though they are asked to state their full assets and are warned they may be required to fully disclose income. Those making under $130,000, who require more assistance, are asked to fill out a traditional aid application.

The Morris County program has been in place since 1998, funded by philanthropists Jerry and Paula Gottesman.

“Day school education is important and the price of private school is out of the reach of a lot of people,” Gottesman told The Jewish Standard.

Since 2007, efforts have been under way to bring the program to the two other schools serving the community of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey. The three schools have worked together, under the guidance of the UJC, on a $50 million endowment campaign, which has already received commitments of more than $30 million.

Bergen County’s day school leaders, who collaborate under their Jewish Education for Generations umbrella, are looking closely at MetroWest, as well as at other communities that are instituting middle income programs.

“This is something we’re exploring,” said Sam Moed, president of JEFG. “This is not something that has reached the level of reality.”

Moed noted that in Bergen County, The Moriah School in Englewood offers a similar program, but on a smaller scale.

“Moriah has taken the lead by establishing a middle income affordability program many years ago,” said Moed, “and we think that model must be extended across our whole network.”

The Moriah program offers tuition abatements of up to $3,000, taking into account income level and number of children, with a streamlined application process, he said.

JEFG’s explorations are not taking place in a vacuum.

Making day schools affordable again for “the middle third” – those earning too much for scholarships, but too little to pay tuition for multiple children without pain – has become a priority for leading forces in the national day school movement, including the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, the Avi Chai Foundation, and the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education.

“You really need to attack the problem on multiple fronts,” said Moed.

“You need to attack the cost front so you’re making schools as efficient as you can, bringing best practices to bear. You need to find alternative means of funding scholarships so it doesn’t just get folded back into tuition, putting more of a burden onto people paying full tuition.”

Much of it may come down to finding local equivalents of Paula Gottesman – and that may require a change in how schools approach fundraising.

The Hebrew Academy of Morris County is able to offer the grants because it has a dedicated income stream from the Gottesman endowment.

The result is that tuition and related fees cover only two-thirds of the school’s costs. Nearly one-third of the Hebrew Academy’s 2010 revenues came from donations, according to the school’s tax filings. By contrast, a review of tax forms of Bergen County schools shows local schools generally rely on tuition and fees for more than 85 percent of revenue.

Growing an endowment takes work, say fundraising professionals.

“It takes a willingness to prioritize the long-term future when the short term continues to be a challenge,” said Yossi Prager, executive director of Avi Chai. “It’s a paradigm shift the schools have to adopt.”

The MetroWest federation has hired Kim Hirsh, who was development director at the Hebrew Academy, to oversee financial development for all three schools. The schools are the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston and the school that was known as the Solomon Schechter Day School of Union and Essex. It was renamed late last year as the Golda Ochs academy, following a $15 million donation from Daniel Ochs, who as a child attended the school.

That gift was the fruit of Hirsh’s efforts.

The success so far of the MetroWest initiative, now beginning its fifth year, shows that asking for the big bucks for day schools is indeed feasible.

The Ochs donation is part of total commitments for more than $30 million, from more than 100 donors.

This money will be used for endowments, tuition relief, and initiatives such as teacher training and technology programs.

“We’re taking a very long-term view of building very strong financial sustainability, such as exists in many private schools and universities,” said Hirsh.

“It’s all all about making connections,” says Naomi Bacharach, director of marketing and development at the Hebrew Academy of Morris County. “It takes time to build relationships,” says Bacharach of raising endowments, “and perseverance is important.”

“Day schools just do not have the time or the resources or the expertise to do endowment development. Day schools are traditionally very short staffed in development if they even have a development director at all,” said Hirsh.

“We’re just copying what private independent schools have done, and universities. A large part of their financial sustainability is from endowments. There’s no reason day schools can’t do it,” said Hirsh. “Let’s take this model that has worked in the private school world and adapt it to Jewish day schools.

“Most of the time I am working with the schools to talk to people who are tied to the school. Most people are parents, former parents, grandparent, someone with a tie to one of the schools. I work with them to help them succeed in soliciting and building support for their schools,” she added.

Bringing something like the MetroWest campaign to Bergen County would not be easy.

The MetroWest catchment area has a slightly larger Jewish population, but only a third as many students in day schools.

On a per student basis, MetroWest’s $50 million campaign would translate to over $150 million in Bergen County. A lower goal of $100 million would give schools the endowment of $20,000 per student being recommended by PEJE, which is rolling out pilot programs in Los Angeles and Baltimore to help day schools raise endowments.

To help keep the fundraising on track, the MetroWest federation has given each of the three schools grants conditioned on meeting fundraising targets, said Bacharach, involving increases in annual campaign, endowments, and alumni giving.

“We did not actively pursue alumni,” said Bacharach. “A year and a half ago, the federation hired an alumni coordinator that works with the three schools in building alumni relations. We went from 4 percent of alumni giving to close to 17 percent.”

“One thing day schools have been sorely lax about is they have never followed up on alumni,” said Gottesman.

“Every prep school, every college, every university tries to keep their alumni involved in giving. Day schools have no idea who their alumni are. It’s a scandal. If we want to have something on par with a good prep school, we have to start acting like one,” she said.

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