Teachers from Metropolitan Schechter High School in Teaneck who were left without jobs, pay, or health-care benefits when the school closed just before the fall term had a chance to hear on Tuesday what arrangements are being made for them.
The deserted halls of Metropolitan Schechter High School.
The teachers participated in a conference call with board president Alan Tannenbaum, and although the terms he discussed were not disclosed to the press, some of the teachers told The Jewish Standard that he said that their plight is important to board members and that some of the money collected on their behalf would be distributed soon.
According to Matt Weber, a math teacher who participated in the call, "The board is continuing to work towards a mutually equitable solution."
But many are still reeling from the shock of the school’s closing. Most were taken by surprise, since they had been reassured that Metro Schechter would open this year. While they are struggling to find jobs at a time of year when most schools have finished hiring, many teachers expressed anger and feelings of betrayal by the board for first assuring them that the school would open as scheduled, and then for laying them off without severance pay or benefits.
Interviews with five former teachers and administrators revealed that, between spring and late August, when it was announced that the school would close, they had received repeated assurances from the board that the school would open and that their jobs were secure. Teachers reported that they turned down other job offers; that they asked in the spring whether they would be paid if the school did not open and were told yes; and that teachers were being hired even in mid- to late August. One teacher said she called in August while vacationing in California to inquire about ordering supplies and was told to go ahead and put them on her own credit card, and she would be reimbursed; she is stuck with the bill.
According to Schechter co-head Jay Dewey, as of Sept. 6, about 10 of ‘7 faculty members have found some kind of employment, part- or full-time. Thirteen new faculty members had been set to start this fall, including several who had relocated from New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Israel. Since these teachers had not yet worked at the school, they are not eligible for unemployment.
"Yes, we are angry," says Jeannie Terepka, a college counselor at Metro Schechter and a single parent of a college-age child. "My monthly survival depends on my salary; I have no safety net. Some of us wonder whether the board members have ever experienced the kind of financial peril that we feel. We are two to three paychecks away from being homeless. What will we do if we can’t pay the rent in October?"
She reports that she asked Tannenbaum in the spring "whether we should have a clause in our contract that we will be paid if the school doesn’t open. He said explicitly, clearly, no." Terepka, who came with Schechter of New York when that school merged with Schechter Regional last year to form Metropolitan Schechter, says her three years with Schechter had been positive until the closing.
Terepka is not the only person associated with the school who feels misled. Assistant principal Rebecca Ackerman Lieberman reports tremendous shock at the announcement, "like being hit by a car." "I had the offer of a job in the spring," she adds, "and was urged by the board to stay on with promises of additional pay and a promotion, plus assurances they weren’t going to close the school." Lieberman has taken a temporary part-time teaching job at the SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y., with a $40,000 pay cut.
Weber, a ‘5-year-old with a recent master’s degree in math education, was hired in June and signed his contract in early July. When asked if he was told anything about the school’s precarious financial situation, he says, "Not word one." Weber, who recently registered "at the last minute" for graduate classes at Hunter College, feels especially sorry for the more experienced teachers. "The timing on this makes it impossible for career teachers to find another job." On being hired by co-head Jay Dewey this summer, Weber had dropped discussions with another school that was interested in hiring him. "I certainly feel that the board owes us a reasonable compensation package."
Rabbi David Bockman is another new teacher who was set to start teaching Tanakh. "It’s a bad-timing thing," he says. "That’s the worst part of it, not just for me, but for everyone, to try to look for a job when school has just started and the High Holidays are here." Bockman, the former religious leader of Cong. Beth Israel of Northern Valley in Bergenfield which closed in June, has a part-time job with a synagogue in Westchester County and has health-care coverage through his wife.
Another teacher who asked not to be identified by name has found two part-time jobs to make up for the one she lost at Metro Schechter, at a pay cut of $15,000. She teaches five classes, while she would have had three in the position she anticipated in Teaneck. "I felt the whole thing was totally irresponsible," she says. "I lost my job and almost lost my graduate work, because you need to be teaching full-time in order to continue. I feel like it’s damaged my reputation. They sold me a big line of garbage and enticed me to leave a solid job opportunity to take this one. But I’m really one of the lucky ones, since I am still working."