Hard lessons

Hard lessons

For the second time this month, we report that a school in our community will not open as expected come September. Parents are scrambling to find a new school for their children; more painfully, teachers are left looking for employment.

The schools and the circumstances are different.

Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School was more than 30 years old but never established itself firmly in Bergen County. Originally located in Rockland County, N.Y., the Modern Orthodox girls high school suffered a drop in enrollment as the Monsey community became increasingly right-wing Orthodox. Three years ago, the school moved to Paramus, lured by the fact that many of its students were commuting from Bergen County. The school hoped that Bergen County would provide a deeper pool of potential students. That proved not to be the case, despite substantially lower tuition than comparable schools, and enrollment remained around 60 students. The fact that lower tuition guaranteed only lower revenue, not higher enrollment, will be an important and debated point for those dealing with the high cost of yeshiva education.

In contrast, the problems with the Shalom Academy Charter School had nothing to do with a lack of potential students. As a public school, Shalom Academy offered free tuition to residents of Englewood and Teaneck and attracted numerous potential students for what was to have been its inaugural year. Many of them were children whose parents wanted to provide an education in Hebrew language and culture – to be supplemented by extracurricular Judaic classes – without the considerable expense of private school tuition.

However, in New Jersey charter schools receive their per capita payments from the local school districts only when school opens. Before then, the school is on its own when it comes to raising start-up costs, including the cost of renting space. This month, Shalom Academy failed that test. It has been granted an additional year to get its act together – but having failed this year, the school’s founders will have to work extra hard to convince potential parents and, most important, potential teachers that it really will be able to open next fall. We’re impressed by the dedication, effort, and commitment shown by Shalom Academy’s initiator, Englewood resident Raphael Bachrach. But we echo the sentiment of his former colleague (see page 7): Setting up a school is a hard job, a big job, and it takes a community, not just an individual, however dedicated. We urge Bachrach to reach out, expand his board, and do what it takes to give his school a chance to succeed.

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