Continuing the conversation… Day-school affordability and quality: The essential linkage

Continuing the conversation… Day-school affordability and quality: The essential linkage

In this time of recession, our day schools, along with other Jewish communal institutions, are reeling under the strain caused by unemployment, loss of income, and loss of confidence that is exacerbating an already severe affordability crunch.

Since the very beginning of the crisis, Yeshiva University, through its newly established Institute for University-School Partnership, has been committed to supporting Jewish day schools and related school communities through a comprehensive program of advocacy, convening, education and consultation.

The underlying premise behind YU’s approach to the crisis is that, to the extent possible, we need to increase affordability while taking great care to strengthen the quality of our institutions, and not simply to cut programs, teachers, and support staff. In fact, we firmly believe, based on our experience and research, that increasing quality is absolutely consonant with increased affordability. Specifically, increasing the quality of how boards of directors engage in fund-raising, how instruction is delivered and faculty are supervised and prepared, and how operations are managed can significantly increase the top line, the bottom line, and cash flow. We are dedicated to all three.

We recognize that a variety of approaches must be taken at the school-specific and communal levels to meet the crisis within the current day school frame. Certainly, we are not opposed to developing new models based on substantive experience and research -and, in fact, we played an integral role on a design team convened for this purpose by Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA). However, we firmly believe that there is a great deal of affordability enhancement potential in the current model that should not be neglected while new models are thoughtfully considered.

Here are just a few examples of the benefits of a considered multi-pronged approach to the affordability crisis:

Advocacy: Institute advocacy involves federal, state, and local government officials in exploring sources of government support, including those representing New Jersey. Our goal is to expand the success we have had as a key participant in the lobbying effort that recently reversed the decision of the State of New York to reduce CAP funding to Jewish day schools. As a result, $30 million was restored to the state budget to support critical day school programming.

Convening: The Institute, in collaboration with YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, has been convening regional forums where community rabbis and day-school lay and professional leaders have come together to discuss strategies for enhancing communal affordability. Our efforts are helping to shape community-wide efforts to raise endowment funds in support of incremental day school scholarships.

Knowledge-building: The Institute has compiled a toolkit of nearly 40 strategies and tactics related to revenue-generation, expense-management, and cash-flow enhancement that have informed the affordability efforts of day schools around the country. A case in point: At a communal forum that brought together a dozen Jewish day schools across the denominational spectrum in the Five Towns on Long Island in December, there was significant interest in several topics. Since that time, an Institute regional coordinator has been working intensively with the schools to prioritize their needs and investigate key improvement areas for follow-up. One exemplary result: In April we convened 17 schools for a face-to-face in-depth workshop to discuss concrete proven energy-conservation strategies. More such programs are planned in communities around the country, including in New Jersey. At their request, the Institute has counseled community rabbis on how to galvanize communal support for day schools and worked with them to develop a series of talking points for day-school advocacy.

Consultation: On an individual school basis, the Institute has been working with schools around the country to help develop short-term and long-term strategies to enhance affordability while improving quality. A prime recent example is our work with a school in New Jersey where new strategies to increase annual and planned giving are being identified, in addition to recruitment methods to increase enrollment. In parallel, we are helping identify strategies to increase quality by improving faculty supervision and curriculum to help ensure low attrition despite economic travail. We are also commencing a program in a number of focal communities where we will offer in-depth consultation to each of several schools, with the goal of helping the individual schools and also identifying specific community-wide initiatives.

To magnify the impact of the above efforts, we utilize technology, including webcasting, to promote knowledge and community-building nationally in an efficient and cost-effective manner. We are also firm advocates of teamwork: This crisis is bigger than any one institution. Thus, we have been working in collaboration with PEJE: The Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and RAVSAK: The Community Day School Network, among others, to create synergy of programming and outcomes. For example, the Institute broadcast the January Economic Summit held at the RAVSAK conference in San Francisco to enable many more schools to participate in the program than were able to attend in person.

Indeed, Yeshiva University, through its Institute for University-School Partnership, has stood shoulder to shoulder with Jewish day schools and intends to invigorate its support of day schools as we pull through this crisis together. We are committed to enhancing affordability and quality simultaneously in order to build a stronger day-school system that is sustainable well beyond serving our children’s children.