Rabbi Marvin Schick, Avi Chai's senior consultant and researcher, told The Jewish Week that "In the Orthodox community, with some exceptions, an intensive Jewish education is not seen as an option but a necessity. But as you get away from Orthodoxy, day school education is seen as more optional.
"When times get hard, private schools are seen as one of the things that has to go. One large non-Orthodox school [in the Miami area] says they've lost more than 100 children. Even in the Orthodox community there are parents who feel if they can't afford it they'll just have to go to public school...”
Rabbi Schick said constant tuition hikes have far outpaced inflation, with tuitions and fees at some schools bloating over $20,000.
"There’s no question in my mind [that these day schools] are pricing themselves out of the market for many families," he said. "It's greed and it's largely stupidity."
School budgets are being taxed, said Rabbi Schick, by "an incredible escalation in administrative salaries. You have day school principals, even in smaller schools, getting $250,000 or $300,000 a year. Then these schools have added directors and assistant principals and executives and department heads and layers of bureaucracy," with the increased budgets not particularly reflecting better salaries for classroom teachers...
Parents are facing hardship, too, said Rabbi Schick. With unemployment and many workers not getting raises, he said, some local schools reported a "spectacular rise" in scholarship applications, including many parents who never applied before...
"Scholarship committees can all recount the parents who beat the system, parents who had money and pled poverty. These committees take those limited situations and apply suspicion across the board. Parents asking for help are made to feel guilty until proven innocent."
As someone who grapples with these problems on a daily basis, I challenge Schick to find the element of greed in day school tuitions. No day school is turning a profit, and no board members are collecting dividends. It is unfair to attach the word "greed" to tuitions.
Furthermore, it's not "largely stupidity" either. Roughly 85 percent of a day school's budget is spent on people - teachers and administrators. At least that is the way it is at Ramaz where, thank God, our tuition has not yet reached $20,000. I assume it is not much different at other schools.
Teachers and administrators should be paid high salaries because of the valuable work they do in educating our children. Furthermore, they also have children to educate and they also have to pay tuitions. This isn't stupidity; it's reality.
Finally, most of the day schools that charge a high tuition also have a very large scholarship program. In effect, we have a graduated income tax whereby those who can afford to pay more do so in order to make it possible for others to be able to pay less.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein Principal, Ramaz School New York, N.Y.
Last week's issue contained a letter from Rabbi Haskel Lookstein critically commenting on what I was quoted to have said in an article reporting on a study I conducted on the impact of the economic downturn on Jewish day schools. Rabbi Lookstein, a man who deserves respect for his leadership of Ramaz, claims that "most of the day schools that charge a high tuition also have a very large scholarship program." As I have written to him, the truth is exactly the reverse and there is an inverse relationship between tuition costs and scholarship availability. Because of economic, social and psychological factors, the priciest schools are the most parsimonious when it comes to financial aid to needy families.