Tuition crisis spurs ideas for ‘new model’

Tuition crisis spurs ideas for ‘new model’

ENGLEWOOD ““ In light of rising day-school costs, parents and educators are examining several options to address what is clearly a tuition crisis. As one local proposal stalled, another idea to address the problem took a small step forward Saturday night.

Rabbi Saul Zucker

A committee of concerned parents and others met Saturday night at a private home here to discuss the creation of a low-cost day-school track. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Cong. Ahavath Torah here, who has been working with another group of day-school administrators and parents to address funding, and Rabbi Saul Zucker, a Teaneck resident who is director of day school services at the Orthodox Union, have supported further exploration of the idea.

Abby Flamholz

The meeting was not meant to be a launching pad for a new initiative, Abby Flamholz, a member of the committee from this city, told the crowd of about 100 people. Rather, it was called to explain the organizers’ proposal and gauge interest in it. Nor, she said, was the proposal meant to replace or detract from the area’s day schools. Rather, based on feedback and interest, the proposal could lead to a secondary track within one of the schools, or a new school altogether.

“If we were to explore this option, it would only be in cooperation with existing day schools,” she said. Flamholz’s husband, David, is on the board of The Moriah School here, and four of their children attend the school.

The proposal, laid out in a Powerpoint presentation, called for fewer layers of administration, higher student-teacher ratios, mandatory parental involvement, and fewer co-curricular activities. Flamholz said that the ideal class size would be 23.5 instead of the current model of approximately 18 students. Special education, she emphasized, would not be offered in this model, because of its higher costs.

Based on these parameters, annual tuition could be as low as $6,500 per student. “If people are willing to take this model for what it is, then it’s worth moving forward,” she said.

“It’s not the current model offered at a lower cost,” Zucker said after Flamholz.

In the current system, the costs are borne largely by the parents and then fund-raising, he said, and is used everywhere.

“That’s the choice parents have,” Zucker said. “It’s limited to one model.”

In an interview last week, Zucker called existing day schools “Rolls-Royces” and said there is a need for a “Chevrolet” model. The day schools do “amazingly excellent jobs,” he said at the meeting, and “there is no extravagant spending.” Therefore, a second model has to be offered – “a different model, which would be affordable so people who feel the terrible crush of the tuition crisis can have an answer,” Zucker told The Jewish Standard.

The next step, Flamholz said, is to send a survey using the e-mail addresses collected at the meeting to definitively measure support.

The earliest the idea could be implemented would be September 2010, according to organizers.

“The sense I get is the demand is there,” Flamholz said after the meeting.

Jason Snyder, of this city, called the idea “very compelling.”

“There’s certainly a need for it,” he said.

Not everyone there was immediately open to the proposal. With two children in high school and one in seventh grade, Howard Sonnenblick has felt the tuition crunch for many years. The crisis has been brewing for several years, and now he fears the Jewish community is moving too fast because the economic crisis has exacerbated the problem.

‘There was an under-reaction for a decade and now I fear there’s an overreaction,” he said. “People need to go slowly.”

The No. 1 answer for the problem is finding outside funding, he said.

The community has to be open to exploring all options, Zucker said. At the same time he is lending his advice to this committee, the OU is pursuing the creation of a national health insurance program that could lower costs for day schools, as well as other cost-saving measures.

Elsewhere in this city, another alternative for parents seeking lower-cost Jewish education is being pursued.

Raphael Bachrach, the Englewood man who last year unsuccessfully tried to create a Hebrew charter school, has been in discussions with the city’s superintendent of schools, Richard Segall, about the creation of a Hebrew immersion track within one of Englewood’s elementary schools. The track would operate like an existing Spanish-language immersion program. Because of state regulations, the program could not offer a Jewish education but would provide a dual-language curriculum and cultural lessons.

An information meeting in February drew about 400 people.

Segall expressed support for the idea during past interviews, and Bachrach said he and Segall were moving forward after positive feedback from February’s meeting.

But the program has hit a roadblock, Bachrach told the Standard earlier this week, and he is “in a struggle” with the school board about it.

“There’s a perception that the Hebrew classes are not as fully integrated as some people might like them to be,” Bachrach said. “There seems to be concern that most of the kids who’d want to learn Hebrew would be white.”

If that were the case, the class “would have a white character,” Bachrach added.

Glenn Garrison, president of the city’s school board, responded that the board has taken no action on the proposal, let alone halted it. Members of the board are interested in the idea, he said, but they have not been included in the discussion up to this point and “have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Rather than partnering with the board from the beginning, the superintendent started crafting this thing with Raphael Bachrach,” Garrison said. “A lot of the initial discussion was done outside the purview of the board. The board was brought into the process very late.”

Two meetings ago, Segall reported to the board that the proposal was dead, Garrison said. He added that he has never seen a finalized presentation on the idea, only various versions of it.

“The board didn’t say it was dead,” he said. “I think there are some members of the board very intrigued by the idea.”

Segall could not be reached for comment earlier this week because of a scheduled vacation. Bachrach said he met with Segall on Sunday and still planned to push the program.

The board is open to exploring the idea further, Garrison said, but must have more input.

“Whatever happens has to be done with the board as a partner in it, not as, ‘This is what you’re going to do, take it or leave it,'” he said.

Bachrach’s wife, Nina, intends to run for a position on Englewood’s school board in the April 21 elections. Bachrach said he believes the board is split on the idea and indicated that part of his wife’s goal in running would be to help push through the immersion program.

“We’re still going to pursue it,” he said. “We still think we’re in shape to start September ’09.”

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