A few hundred Jewish schools are among more than a thousand area nonpublic schools disputing a decision by state authorities to withhold mandated payments because of a disagreement over the formula for allocating funds for a change in attendance taking, The Jewish Week has learned.
At issue is money that comprises a small percentage of most schools’ annual budgets, but puts a financial strain on institutions that often have to conduct fund-raising campaigns to supplement tuition payments. In addition, because of the dispute, the Education Department has delayed sending out the 2006-07 mandated service forms, the schools’ applications for reimbursements of expenses for services required by the department. The forms are usually in administrators’ hands by July, to be returned in September, and funds are received by the following January.
The disagreement, prompted by a change the Education Department mandated of all schools three years ago, increasing school administrations’ paperwork and payroll expense, is especially difficult for Jewish day schools, whose budgets often have a small margin of error, says Rabbi Nissan Gewirtzman, a veteran teacher and administrator who works as a consultant to yeshivot about mandated services.
"It’s hurting in the pocketbook," Rabbi Gewirtzman says. "It affects every segment" of Jewish day schools.
The mandated funds constitute "maybe three or four percent" of school budgets but such a shortfall makes long-range planning difficult, and forces the schools to take out loans against the mandated services and make the additional interest payments.
"Our schools are quite concerned," says David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel of America’s executive vice president for government and public affairs. A member of the education commissioner’s advisory council for nonpublic schools, he will meet with officials this month to discuss the issue.