The Ramaz School on the Upper East Side, instead of providing its usual $3.2 million in needs-based scholarships, is allocating a record $5.5 million for the next school year — a staggering 72 percent increase.
Although similar figures are not available for the Abraham Joshua Heschel School on the Upper West Side, Carol Weintraub, the director of institutional advancement, said “scholarship requests are substantially higher” for the next school year.
And Rabbi Stuart Saposh, director of the Beit Rabban Day School, also on the Upper West Side, said his school is scrambling to raise more scholarship money.
“We never want to turn anyone away” because of an inability to pay, he said. “But it’s definitely a crisis situation.”
The deepening recession is exacting a price in nearly every sector of the Jewish community. New soup kitchens are in the works to meet growing needs, synagogues’ building projects have been tabled, arts organizations have cut back on programming and federations around the country have instituted layoffs.
Just this week, in fact, the umbrella group for the country’s federations, United Jewish Communities, announced a second round of budget cuts and layoffs.
But perhaps nowhere is the economic downturn being felt more than in Jewish day schools. Some schools are considering canceling long-distance trips for students in favor of less-expensive trips closer to home. One has already cut a trip to Italy and Israel for teachers.
The recession is having such a profound impact that the Ramaz School, which normally increases tuition by 5 to 6 percent each school year, will not increase tuition next year.
“I’ve been here 18 years, and people who have been here for many more years than that tell me this is the first time we have frozen tuition,” said Kenneth Rochlin, the school’s director of institutional advancement.
Tuition last year increased by $3,000 for nursery school and kindergarten and by nearly $3,000 for pre-kindergarten, grades that although not mandated by the state have become the norm for most Jewish families here. Nursery tuition is now $23,875; pre-K tuition is $24,000 and kindergarten is $25,000.
Despite that, Rochlin said that instead of the normal 15 to 20 percent of students receiving financial aid, nearly one-third of the school’s 1,100 students are expected to receive a needs-based scholarship next year.
“People are struggling to be able to send their children to Jewish day schools and don’t want to apply for financial aid, but many are forced to,” Rochlin said. “I have not been hearing people saying they are going to have to leave [because they can’t afford it]. Most of the time those calling for financial aid are making the effort to stay.
“I’m committed to raising the dollars so that every child who wants a Jewish education gets one. We are going to work with you to make it happen.”
Barbara Etra, principal of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School on the Upper East Side, said she too is finding that “parents are struggling” to cover the cost of tuition.
She said a scholarship committee is still reviewing financial aid requests for the next school year and that “logic would assume we’re going to give more assistance. … Rabbi Schneier doesn’t have it in his heart to turn anybody away.”
At the Heschel School, Weintraub said the school leadership is “determined to keep our families in the school and to support those families who need help. No families are going to have to leave because of tuition alone. We will support our families.”
To help provide aid, Weintraub said the school would be requesting assistance from a $1 million needs-based scholarship fund established by the Biller Family Fund and administered by UJA-Federation of New York. The scholarships will be granted through each of the 280 yeshivas and Jewish day schools in the city, Long Island and Westchester. The minimum scholarship will be $5,000; the maximum will be determined based on the number of eligible applications received.
Although Ramaz has frozen its tuition for the next school year, other schools are continuing to increase tuition as usual. At the Heschel School, for example, tuition for pre-K students in 2007-2008 was $25,155. This year it is $26,820, and next year it is slated to increase to $28,350. Tuition for its high school jumped above $30,000 for the first time last year.
At the Manhattan Day School, a Modern Orthodox school, the pre-K program runs a full day and the fee is $14,525. Robert Insel, the executive director, said the disparity in the cost between different institutions stems in part from the amount they pay their teachers and whether they are part of a school or offer only nursery programs.
“Maybe we have better fiscal management, I don’t know,” he added. “Our faculty is paid fairly. But whatever we charge covers only 75 percent of what it costs us.”
Insel said the rest of the money is raised from contributions and grants. “This year everybody is between a rock and a hard place because more and more parents are being laid off and schools need additional revenue because they are giving out more scholarships,” he said. “On the other hand, how do you increase tuition when the economy is the worst it has been in 75 years?”
Nancy Bossov, director of the Early Childhood Department at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York said one reason for the high tuition of nursery school in Manhattan is that costs here are high.
“Differences in the cost may be because of the facilities,” she noted. “Not all children are going to have access to the kind of library Park East has or the gym Heschel has. And there is a big difference between the neighborhood school and the regular day school.”
At the JCC in Manhattan, which offers a nursery program for children age 2 to 5, tuition for the nursery program increased from $16,585 in 2007-2008 to $18,975 for next year. Tuition includes community membership at the JCC.
Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, the school’s director, said next year’s increase was held to no more than 5 percent instead of the normal 8 to 9 percent.
“We spent a lot of time agonizing about the tuition increase,” she said. “We raised it because institution-wide we have increasing needs. A substantial portion of our institutional budget comes from philanthropy, and that money is down.”
At the same time, Ruskay-Kidd said the amount of scholarship money has been increased to a record $100,000 from a little less than $70,000 this year to meet increased requests.
“Our goal is to keep our families,” she said. “If someone signs a contract and loses his job next week, his child will remain in our school. … In the past, financial aid was often for single parents and those in graduate school; this year we have more requests from families who have lost their jobs.”
To increase scholarship money, Ruskay-Kidd said an educational trip for its teachers to Israel and Italy was canceled next year.
The high cost of tuition is prompting some parents of Jewish day school students on Long Island to consider switching to the less expensive Max & Ruth Schwartz Torah Academy, a Chabad school in Port Washington, L.I., according to its dean and founder, Rabbi Shalom Paltiel.
“We’re getting calls from parents in the Five Towns who don’t want to pay $14,000 or $15,000 for elementary school and want to come to us — particularly parents with three or four children,” he said, noting that his school’s tuition is $7,100.
Rabbi Paltiel said the calls, which started about two months ago, are coming not only from the Five Towns, but also from eastern Queens, Plainview, West Hempstead and Oceanside, L.I.
“We’re now planning to provide a private bus from the Five Towns and another from eastern Queens because of the amount of requests we’re getting,” he said.
“When we established our school 10 years ago, its purpose was outreach to non-observant Jewish families,” he said. “Now, because of what’s happening, we are becoming attractive to Modern Orthodox families.”
But how does it manage to be so much cheaper than the competition? “We do not balance our budget with tuition,” Rabbi Paltiel said. “We never have, and we have people who believe in our cause.”
Rabbi Paltiel said he has now begun advertising in the Five Towns, Great Neck, Oceanside and West Hempstead. The ads compare his students’ scores on the statewide English and math exams with neighboring public school districts and Nassau County as a whole to demonstrate what Rabbi Paltiel described as his school’s “superior product.”
He noted that although his school has 200 students, it is now undergoing an expansion that by September 2010 will allow it to accommodate 350 students.
“If it was up to me, I would bus children here from the city,” Rabbi Paltiel said.