Metro Schechter wins reprieve

Metro Schechter wins reprieve

TEANECK – Metropolitan Schechter High School will remain open for the ‘007-08 school year, its board announced Monday after disclosing that the school had met the minimum enrollment requirements set forth last week.

The school’s board set off a furor when it called an emergency session last Monday to discuss closing the school due to its deteriorating financial situation and low enrollment. The incoming freshmen class had fewer than 10 enrolled students, and the board projected a $1.5 million operating loss for next year. (See opinion pieces, pages 15 and 17.)

After an outcry from parents, students, and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, board members agreed to contribute $1 million to keep the school running next year if the high school was able to pull in a freshmen class of at least 10 and an overall enrollment of at least 70 by last week’s deadline. The board also looked to the community to raise the remaining $500,000 by September.

According to school director Jay Dewey, as of Tuesday, the school expected a freshman class of 15 and a total student body of 80 to 90, with some 30 students coming from the former Solomon Schechter High School of New York.

The New York school merged with Teaneck’s Schechter Regional High School last year to form Metropolitan Schechter. Dewey said the class size would be a much better fit for the building than this year’s 143 students. The school rents its space from the Jewish Center of Teaneck and has suffered from cramped conditions since the merger.

"All year we have been running in sneakers that are too small. No wonder our feet hurt and problems developed," he said in an e-mail Tuesday night. "We will be so much more comfortable next year."

School board president Alan Tannenbaum met Wednesday morning with the school’s students to engage them in the fund-raising and recruitment processes. The board has been encouraged by the commitment from the students and faculty, he said.

Tuition for the ‘007-08 school year has been set at $’1,900. Since many families receive scholarships, the school only collected an average of $10,000 to $11,000 per student during the ‘006-07 school year. But even with scholarships in place, Tannenbaum said, tuition is expected to increase to an average of $14,000 per student. Also contributing to the school’s low income was the fact that New Jersey members of this year’s graduating class had each received Founder’s Grants of $10,000 as part of the original class at Schechter Regional, which would have graduated its first class this year. Metropolitan Schechter will continue to honor all of its financial aid obligations from New Jersey and New York, Tannenbaum added.

As for the $500,000 the community must raise, Tannenbaum said the board would be flexible with its September deadline, and the school will remain open even if the goal is not met on time.

"We are moving forward, assuming those funds will be raised at some point during the year," said Tannenbaum, who served as the school board’s treasurer before becoming president at last Sunday’s meeting.

Teachers’ contracts, which usually go out in March, were being sent out this week, said Tannenbaum. Given the lateness of the contracts, he said, he does not expect all of the current teachers to return, but anticipates that a majority will come back.

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, the newly elected president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis and a columnist for this paper, said the rabbis are committed to helping with fund-raising so the school can continue. While Schechter is a Conservative school and the board of rabbis contains members of the Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform rabbinates, the body views Schechter as a school for the entire Jewish community.

"Not every one in Bergen County wants to [go] to an Orthodox day school," Engelmayer said. "If an alternative is not available, that means they don’t have a place to go. We want to be certain there is an alternative day school for the Jewish high school kids in the country that is a quality school for the secular and religious aspects in their lives."

The board of rabbis wants to create a partnership with the school, Engelmayer continued. Traditionally, the board’s input has been discouraged, he said, adding that the school only began to reach out to the rabbis recently. The board can be a great asset to the school because of its connections to major donors in congregations, as well as in helping to set a religious tone for the school, Engelmayer said.

"We’re looking for all sides to be partners in this effort," he said. "Saving the school and keeping it going is going to require a coordinated partnership."

Engelmayer took issue with the board’s timing in announcing the school’s financial troubles. The community could have turned its attention to fund-raising earlier had it known the school faced a large deficit, he said. But now that the community does know, last week’s emergency situation is not likely to be repeated.

"Everybody knows they have to pull together and do some work," he said. "Nobody has any excuses. If the school closes, there is no place to point fingers anymore."

Albert Ades, whose son is a junior at Schechter, told the Standard that he and his wife Audrey had no idea the school was in so much financial trouble.

"Inasmuch as they say they needed support, I believe every parent gave their support by sending their children here," he told the Standard after last week’s emergency meeting. He blamed "a veil of secrecy" around the school board for the financial problems.

Tannenbaum said he expected the school to be in a better financial situation next year, but acknowledged that relationships between the school board and the parents, students, and faculty had been damaged. Regarding the relationship with the board of rabbis, he said he did not know why that body had not been consulted before, but he looks forward to gaining its input in the future.

"The process of repairing all these relationships involves much greater transparency, communication, and involvement in all parts of the school," said Tannenbaum. "That will go a long way in giving people comfort and confidence in our future."

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