The board chairman of Yeshiva University’s boys and girls high schools expressed confidence Tuesday that his board would raise the $1 million in pledges the university has sought before allowing the schools to become independent.
In the meantime, amid confusion and suspicion among administrators and parents about the fate of their high schools, Yeshiva University continued merger talks with two boys high schools on Long Island after tabling discussions with the Torah Academy of Bergen County, a boys high school in Teaneck, N.J. There have been no merger talks regarding the girls high school, located in Holliswood, Queens.
The high schools’ board chairman, Elliot Gibber, said his conversations with university officials have convinced him that merger talks were initiated only as a failsafe option.
"They want us to succeed," he said. "They want this [autonomy for the schools] to work."
As proof of that, he said that if the board could raise $1 million in pledges, the university will match that amount. He said the pledges have to be paid over five years.
"I understand the university’s position," he said. "It wants to know that parents, alumni and the community support the high schools."
Y.U. is considering two options: "collaborative arrangements," in the words of one official, or independence for its 80-year-old boys high school, known as the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), largely because of financial considerations. Enrollment has dropped from 520 students in 1992 to 340, at a time when enrollment at Yeshiva College, the university’s undergraduate school, has jumped 45 percent to 1,150 students. Both institutions share the same buildings in Washington Heights and the college is feeling the crunch for more space.
But the principal of MTA, Rabbi Michael Taubes, attributed the decline in enrollment to stricter admissions standards. And he noted that the ninth grade class this year was 90 students, 17 more than last year.
"Our hope is that we can convince people we have an excellent school through the improvements we have made over the last several years," he said.
Whether those improvements prove enough, though, to counter the views of those within Y.U. urging the university to get out of the business of running high schools is debatable. It seems most likely that within several months, Y.U.’s leadership will decide whether to cut its ties with the boys school, while allowing it to remain on campus, or affiliate with several existing yeshiva high schools in the metropolitan area.
The short-term fate of the Y.U. Wang High School for Girls, popularly known as Central, seems secure, though if the university decides to free itself of high school involvement, it ultimately will affect the girls school as well.
One insider described a "war" going on within the university between the pragmatists who want to remove Y.U. from the financial and other responsibilities of operating high schools and the traditionalists who want to maintain the culture of the existing schools.
While officials of the university are not discussing the status quo as an option, many parents and students are hoping Y.U. will reconsider.
"The opportunity for students to take their studies to a higher level by taking courses in Yeshiva University is simply not available in other high schools," said Etan Schnall, an MTA senior. "With programs that invite prominent roshei yeshiva from Y.U. to address the student body, as well as the indispensable advantage of having the Yeshiva University beis midrash in the same building, every student in MTA can get a quality Jewish education."
A university spokesman, David Rosen, said that if the high school board can raise sufficient funds, it will take over the boys and girls schools. In the meantime, though, he said discussions have continued with several boys high schools on Long Island because a large number of MTA students come from that area. He declined to name the schools.
But Gibber stressed that he was moving ahead with his board’s plans to take the two high schools independent. He said the board is "having success in raising money" and that he hoped to begin "an active fund-raising effort" next week that would allow the board to reach an agreement in principle by mid-February to take over the schools.
Meanwhile, students at the two high schools received letters this week from the university assuring them that a ninth grade would be enrolled in September and looking forward to a "busy and productive new school year." But there was no pledge beyond the next academic year.
It was the first time the university had communicated with parents and the parents of prospective students since rumors began circulating late last year about the schools’ future status. And officials at both high schools were said to be upset that they were not included in the university’s planning discussions.
MTA principal Taubes said he had been led to believe as late as last Friday that all discussions about merger or independence were over. "It was not my impression that a decision had only been delayed," he said. And Rochelle Brand, principal of Central, said she has not been privy to the discussions that could decide the fate of her school.