A no-frills day school is the third proposal by parents in New Jersey’s Bergen County this year to offer intensive but affordable Jewish education.
The initiative, outlined last week at an “exploratory meeting” in Englewood, would establish a day school with an annual tuition below $10,000, larger class size than at most day schools, and fewer costly expenditures like extracurricular activities and state-of-the-art technology.
No details of the proposed day school, which would not be affiliated with existing day schools, were announced after the meeting, which was called to gauge the level of interest in the local Jewish community. If found feasible, the new school could start in the 2010-11 academic year.
More than 100 parents of prospective students attended the meeting, said Abby Flamholz,a parent of four day-school students and an organizer of the initiative. “The interest seems to be there. The demand is there.”
Flamholz estimated that most of the parents at the recent meeting already have children enrolled in day schools, but “want to spend less.”
A survey of parental interest in such a new school will be commissioned soon, she said; it will determine if the required minimum of 200 students are likely to enroll. “I think we might have that.”
“The jury is still out if this is possible,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and an informal consultant to the parents’ group. “It has the possibility of alleviating the financial burden on the community” of families unable to pay day schools’ steep tuitions, he added.
The proposal follows the recent attempt of another parents’ group in Bergen County to establish a Hebrew-language track in the Englewood public school system (the proposal awaits formal presentation to the board of education), and the earlier application for a Hebrew-language charter school (it was turned down by the state’s school board).
The three initiatives are the latest sign that parents, many facing unemployment or reduced resources during the current recession, may turn away from successful but expensive day schools in favor of innovative educational approaches.
The 20-person committee behind the scaled-down institution envisioned for Englewood described at the recent meeting a day school that would feature a “stripped-down curriculum,” rotating aides for lower grades, and mandatory volunteer service by parents at the school, the New Jersey Jewish Standard reported.
“The automobile buyer has a choice” ranging from Rolls Royce to Chevrolet to jalopy," Rabbi Saul Zucker, the Orthodox Union’s director of day school services who lives in Teaneck, told the Jewish Standard. “In the world of day school education, that choice doesn’t really exist. All of the yeshivot and day schools that service our communities across the country either are or purport to be Rolls Royces.”
All the Bergen County proposals would offer competition to the county’s 12 Jewish elementary and high schools, but may make a Jewish education possible for parents who can not afford the established schools’ tuitions, most of which range from $15,000 to $20,000.
“Some of the existing schools are not happy” with the idea of the no-frills day school, Rabbi Goldin said. “There have been real objections.
“These [new] options should be explored” as long as they can offer a “quality education,” the rabbi said. The parents “should be given the option at least to explore … a different model. In theory, I’m not against it. I’d be against it if it turns out that this is going to cut [available resources] in ways that will really hurt the education of the children.”
Rabbi Goldin presented the latest day school concept last week at a meeting of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, and asked his colleagues to consider the idea.
Rabbi Goldin has worked for the last six months as part of an initiative to set up a communal fund for area day schools’ operating costs.
On a similar path, the OU has recently discussed with day school representatives in the tri-state area such ideas as a national insurance program for day school faculty, a communal fund to help cover schools’ operating costs, and other cost-cutting measures. The OU has scheduled an April 22 teleconference on the subject.