UJA heeds teachers’ SOS

UJA heeds teachers’ SOS

On Sept. 5, Alan Tannenbaum, president of the board of Metropolitan Schechter High School in Teaneck, asked UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey for financial help in the wake of the school’s closure.

Believing that all that could be done for the displaced students was being done — the school will reimburse parents for tuition; an anonymous donor has come forward with $600,000 for students who need financial aid if they attend a Jewish school; and co-head Jay Dewey remained at his post to ease transitions for the students — Tannenbaum acknowledged that "teachers were getting the short end of the stick. I went to [the federation] to ask for help with severance for the teachers and for help with COBRA payments," he said. (Tannenbaum told The Jewish Standard that he does not know the identity of the donor who has contributed the $600,000. "I think it’s being done through a Jewish organization in New York [and] I have the sense that the individual became aware of the situation after" the dissolution of the school. "I believe the donor is outside of our community," he said.)

Four years ago, the federation’s board had voted to grant the school $’50,000, payable over five years. In addition, UJA-NNJ gave the school an annual allocation of $17,000.

The question now, said Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, was — with this year’s projected payment clouded by the closure — whether the board would continue to support the school. "There were mixed feelings," he said.

Nevertheless, "the board of trustees rallied to support the school," said Charish, reporting that the motion to grant Schechter this year’s payment of $67,000 passed unanimously, and that the money was conveyed to the school immediately.

"When Alan Tannenbaum explained the situation, everyone was touched," he said.

While it is UJA-NNJ’s understanding that the money will be used for teachers’ severance packages, Charish said the federation "cannot stipulate how the money will be spent." In addition to the $67,000 grant, however, the federation raised private funds that will be used specifically to fund the first month of COBRA health insurance payments for teachers.

Charish noted that when Schechter announced its decision to close, the federation offered to provide loans, but the school board felt that, given the financial situation, it could not accept them. "We also raised some funds, but it was not enough to bridge the financial gap," said Charish.

The UJA-NNJ head said that those wishing to help the Schechter teachers should send checks payable to the UJA-Metro Schechter Displaced Teachers Fund to the attention of Dr. Wally Greene at the agency’s headquarters in River Edge. In addition, he noted, short-term assistance for teachers is available from the Hebrew Free Loan Fund at Jewish Family Service in Bergen County.

Tannenbaum said Metro Schechter also continues to collect funds for teachers, although he said, he realizes that some people may prefer to send their checks through UJA, inasmuch as UJA is an ongoing institution. The Schechter teachers’ fund, administered by the school’s board, has collected $’0,000 so far, said Tannenbaum, who added that the money will be used for teachers’ severance pay.

Asked about renovations to the school that were made over the summer, Tannenbaum said that until the end of August, he was confident Schechter would open this year and therefore felt justified in going ahead with the work. In addition, he acknowledged telling teachers that their salaries would be secure "even if no students showed up" in the fall, "since commitments were in place to pay for the coming year." When those commitments did not materialize, he said, the situation changed.

Regarding the board’s statement at the open meeting on Aug. ‘3 that the school was considering either closing immediately or remaining open for several more months, Tannenbaum said board members believed they had the resources to continue operating over that period. Explaining that teachers are paid on a 1’-month cycle, he said that the money that would have sustained the school for those additional months was used to pay last year’s faculty for the summer months.

Charish said he is impressed by the level of "cooperation and collaboration" among Jewish communal organizations in the face of current situation. Citing, in particular, UJA-Federation of New York and United Jewish Communities of Metrowest, he pointed out that both organizations have volunteered to help "reposition the faculty and find them available jobs." He commended the two organizations for "responding to this crisis" and noted that Metrowest will offer assistance even to teachers who live outside the group’s catchment area.

The Jewish Center of Teaneck, which housed Metro Schechter, was "upset and saddened about the loss of a vibrant day school on our premises," the center’s president, Howard Wang, told the Standard this week. He said he expressed those same views to Tannenbaum upon learning of the school’s demise last month.

"It was a great loss to the community," said Wang. "The Jewish community of Bergen County and the Jewish Center had a great loss."

Metro Schechter has rented the Jewish Center space since the school’s inception as Schechter Regional five years ago. Its rent to the Jewish Center was paid up through the end of August.

According to Wang, the school had a rent obligation of $110,000 for the upcoming school year. In addition, the school had been contracted for another three years at the Jewish Center, which now must figure out what to do with the space and absorb the loss.

"At present, there is nothing to replace that income," Wang said. "It impounds greatly on our fiscal situation for the year."

Wang emphasized, however, that the center is not in economic danger as a result of the lost income and has the budget to maintain its programming.

Given the financial crisis that spurred the school’s closing, the center will do what it can to ease Schechter’s departure and "probably will not pursue them for unpaid rent," Wang said. "We will try to make their exit as painless as possible."

Josh Lipowsky contributed to this report.

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