Metropolitan Schechter’s future is once again in doubt

Metropolitan Schechter’s future is once again in doubt

The president of the Metropolitan Schechter High School board sent an e-mail to parents this week outlining the school’s continuing financial woes and raising the possibility that the school may not survive the year.

The board had called an emergency meeting in May to announce a $1.5 million deficit, but an outcry from parents and students convinced board members to pledge $1 million to keep the school going, provided the community could raise the remaining $500,000.

On Tuesday, board president Alan Tannenbaum e-mailed Schechter parents that while the board has donated more than $450,000, one of the major donors has withdrawn support because of "personal financial reversals."

Metropolitan Schechter High School faces an uncertain year as it struggles to cover its operating costs. photo by josh lipowsky

"As a result, the board no longer has a clear plan as to how we are going to fund our operating deficit," Tannenbaum wrote.

The school is scheduled to begin classes on Tuesday, Sept. 4, with a student body of approximately 80, and teachers had planned to report to orientation next week. According to Tannenbaum’s e-mail, it costs "$10,000 per day, seven days a week, to keep [the] school operating."

Tannenbaum, reached on Wednesday, would not comment on the situation until after a planned meeting with Schechter parents and students Thursday night, after this newspaper goes to press.

"The situation is very grave," said Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis and a columnist for the newspaper. "The likelihood of the school’s being able to survive beyond November or December is at the moment negligible. And unless there is an infusion of cash from a generous source, the picture is very, very bleak."

The board of rabbis, which is composed of Conservative, Reform, and a few Orthodox rabbis, stands ready to help in any way it can, Engelmayer said, whether that means fund-raising or serving as volunteer teachers. "To save this school right now is going to require somebody in this community with a lot of bucks to come forward and say, ‘What do you need?’"

In response to Tannenbaum’s letter, this newspaper received an anonymous letter from a Schechter student who attributed the decline of the school to what he called a deteriorating Conservative movement and to philanthropists who "would rather wait for a building to brandish their name on than take action and save a movement and support its next generation."

Rabbi Robert Abramson, director of the department of education at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which oversees the Schechter schools, said the situation could not have been predicted.

"It has to do with a major donor not being able to fund things because of a new economic situation," said Abramson, a Teaneck resident. "A major piece of funding collapsed, but it’s not the donor’s fault. This is one of these no-fault cases. We have a bigger mountain to climb now."

Last year was the first for the Metropolitan Schechter High School, which resulted from the merger of the Solomon Schechter High School of New York and Teaneck’s Schechter Regional High School. The new school continued to use Regional’s space, rented from the Jewish Center of Teaneck. Board members attributed last spring’s financial worries, at least in part, to the merger, which they said had taken their focus away from fund-raising.

While Abramson would not say that USCJ would provide funds to allow Metro Schechter to at least complete the upcoming year, he remains optimistic that a solution will be found.

"[Until now] we were overcoming the problems of last June," he said. "We will strive to overcome these problems. But it became complicated over the last month."

Part of the problem, according to Abramson, is that while the majority of Orthodox families send their children to day school beginning in kindergarten, less than half of the Conservative Jewish population sends its children to day school.

"It isn’t the overriding phenomenon among Conservative congregations," he said.

No precedent exists for a Schechter school’s closing in the middle of the year; however, with only $450,000 out of a needed $1.5 million, it is unlikely the school will be able to complete the year without a new revenue infusion.

Many parents complained in May that the emergency meeting had been the first they had heard of Schechter’s financial troubles. In response, the board promised more transparency. Tuesday’s e-mail is a sign of that transparency, Abramson said.

"We felt we had to be honest with the parent population about where we are as of this moment," he said.

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