Out of Town

We moved 1000 miles away from our friends and family and just had a new baby....

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tuition Crisis

Everywhere in the J-bloggisphere, you can read about the current tuition crisis, and I would like to add my two cents. As residents of a smaller community, I think our issues may be slightly different, but still close enough to resonate even with those who are living in big cities.

My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about how we can help the schools in our community. Our oldest son will be starting school next fall, and the school he will be attending in notorious for not paying teachers on time and not having enough money to run. It is also a school that caters to large families who are working in chinuch and/or kollel and don't have a lot of money.

That being said, I think there needs to be some changes. I am outlining a proposal and I would love comments on what to keep and what to change. I am not an expert, just a parent, but I sincerely want to help the school get to a good place financially.

1. I would like the school to make the books open. I think they should send some sort of financial statement to the parents each year. I don't think parents should be told specific salaries, but I would like to see a statement with expenses, broken down by salaries (administrative, teaching (kodesh), teaching (chol), janitorial), facility upkeep (repair, electric bills, etc), supplies. And income broken down by source (tuition, dinner, outside fundraising, raffle, federation, etc.)

2. Create an application process that doesn't embarrass anyone, but makes people accountable for how much they pay. On the application for admission to the school (not a scholarship application) parents should self-report how much they think they can afford for school. If tuition costs $8000 per year, any parent who reports they can pay $5000 or above per student should be believed and allowed to pay that amount. A parent who reports they can pay some amount less than that, should be given a scholarship application. Obviously, when deciding how much need based scholarship money can be given to a parent, income has to be taken into consideration. However, I think it should be up to the parent to provide whatever documentation they chose to make their case as to how much they can afford. I don't think schoools should demand income tax returns, although they can be used by the parents to make their case.

3. The scholarship applications, along with any evidence or additional information the parents chose to supply, should be reviewed by a scholarship committee that should be made up of an administrator (probably the pricipal), a teacher, a board member, and a parent. The people selected to be on this committee should be chosen based on their sensitivity and outstanding middos and inclusion on this committee should not be public knowledge.

4. The scholarship committee should determine the amount of tuition the parent should pay, with no parent paying less than $2500 per student. That is $250 per month per child, certainly much less expensive than a babysitter.

5. Payment of tuition, whatever the total should be made either in one payment at the beginning of the year, or monthly by post-dated checks, or by credit card that is kept on file and charged monthly.

6. If people cannot pay the minimum tuition, they should be given a chance to make up the difference by offering their services to the school, either in the office, as a teacher's aide, doing custodial work, or maintenance work. The debt to the school could be paid off by working for the school at a rate of $10 per hour.

7. Teachers at the school should also pay the minimum tuition for their children, and be given the option of having that tuition deducted from their salary pre-tax. If a teacher cannot afford the tuition for their children, they also should be given the opportunity to make up the difference in service to the school. Since they have a valueable skill, I would ask them to tutor children at a rate of $20 per hour. This tutoring could take place before school, during lunch, or afterschool, but not, obviously, during limudei chol.

8. Anyone who is going to work to make up the tuition cost must sign up for the hours and jobs they will be doing in advance. For example, in order to work for September's tuition, a parent must sign up for the work they will be doing by August 15th. For October's tuition, they must sign up by Sept 15th. This will allow the school to save money on administrative and custodial staff.

Although the school may not take in signficantly more money this way, the school will improve. The students will have access to free tutoring, the parents will be more invested in the school. Of course, anyone who doesn't want to volunteer would be welcome to ask their parents/grandparents/relatives for the money, the school would not be in the business of asking about the financial situtation of any distant relatives.

I know that some people will think I am being too harsh and that many people will be unable to afford to pay 2500 per student when some people have 5 or more kids in school, but I don't see how the school will be able to remain open if we aren't paying tuition.


Blogger SephardiLady said...

Hello. Obviously there is a lot to discuss here. But, regarding #5, there are a number of schools that charge more per payment to those who pay in installments, rather than in one or two lump sums.

On top of the halachic problems that this should pose (although my husband thinks maybe organizations are somehow exempt), it seems cruel to punish those who must pay over time.

Yet another policy that needs to be fought by already too busy parents.

May 08, 2006 8:27 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

I really like both these and SephardiLady's suggestions, and I have been learning a lot from following the ongoing discussion. I wanted to share how my son's school implements some of these ideas. In our community, the Federation gives $500 per student to the day schools. So the tuition is reduced by that amount, but you are required to make it up in whatever way works best for your family - tax-deductible donation, get matching funds from your company, ask others to make donations, and/or volunteer at the school. (They credit $10 per hour.) They will e-mail when there is a specific volunteer opportunity (usually office work), you can chaperone field trips for credit, or just approach the school with what you are able to contribute. I think this works well because it allows each person to contribute in the way that works best for them.

May 09, 2006 9:32 AM  
Blogger Outoftown said...

SephardiLady: I do not think parents should be penalized for paying over time, but I would not be opposed to giving a 10% discount for those who pay at the beginning of the year.

Esther: Thanks for reading. Do you think having parents volunteer is stigmatizing? Do people feel bad that they can't pay the cash and they have to work for the tuition?

May 09, 2006 9:36 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

OutofTow-I think that there are real halachic issues with giving discounts too. I will try to find out more.

I personally think a lot of pain could be alleviated by spreading payments out over 12 months for those who are just pulling in enough cash to cover the tuition after their expenses.

May 09, 2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

The school presents the obligation as a way to contribute to the school. They have a catchy name for the program, and everyone is doing it. If anything, it is almost strange for someone to just write the $500 check. Parents generally volunteer at their kid's school anyway, so this just gives them financial credit for doing so. But I think that if it wasn't a normal part of the program, and someone who couldn't afford the tuition was "put to work" to make up for it, it could be a totally different situation.

May 09, 2006 4:51 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I think that catchy name is "give-or-get." I'm not sure how odd it is for the parents to write the extra check when two parents are already out of the house working 40 plus hours a week. At least where I am, many parents just cought up the extra money because they are unable to make the time.

May 09, 2006 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a faxcinating post and I am going to talk to each of your points in my next post.

I am a Jewish professional fundraiser and program director so I think I have some meaningful things to contribute...or not. :)

May 15, 2006 5:02 AM  
Blogger Outoftown said...

Thanks, jh. I look forward to reading it.

May 15, 2006 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's up...please share your thoughts...thanks!

May 15, 2006 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a very commendable list and I applaud all your suggestions, but the biggest expense for any school or school district is the salaries of the teacher. Education is a very labor intensive industry and unfortunately all the parents volunteering their time won't help pay a teacher's salary. But yes volunteering does make a huge difference in the school.

May 15, 2006 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amishav, you are right about volunteering not covering staffing costs, but getting lay support can cut costs in other admin areas so that teachers can get what they deserve...

May 16, 2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger Outoftown said...

I ablsolutely agree that teachers are the #1 expense and the #1 most important part of a school (my husband is a teacher). However, if parents aren't paying anyway, at least we can get something from them. I have been told that the school has gotten a collection agency involved to try to collect debts. I think it is such a shame that frum parents would ignore a debt to their children's school. What kind of message does that send to the kids?

May 16, 2006 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooh, I am glad you brought up the topic of collections...I think I might post on it. I think collections in the charity world or Jewish organizational world is very different than if you don't pay your regular bills.

May 16, 2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger Outoftown said...

I don't really know what to say about collections. I think people need to may their bills, but I would be hesitant to send a tuition bill out for collections. That is probably illogical, but it is still what it is.

May 16, 2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I would be hesitant to send a tuition bill for collections too, but when a parent signs on the dotted line, it becomes a perfectly valid contract and there is no reason why it couldn't go to collections.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

May 16, 2006 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sephardilady and out of town, check out my post on collections. You raise valid points...

May 16, 2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger cool yiddishe mama said...

Most of the staff at my daughter's school is made up of parents of the students (rabbis, morot, support staff, etc.). I believe they do get a break on the tuition since their parnasah is significantly lower than some of our families (owners of large corporations, developers, doctors, lawyers). The only problem is this nasty finance director who seems to make my husband and I feel small because we are on scholarship. He is one of the few whose kids don't go there. They are in the charedi school. He has even been heard in the charedi community as cracking on the school. Talk about being a diservice...

May 16, 2006 9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see no reason why parents should not 'have' to be required to prove income etc... when requesting a scholarship or tuition break.
In order to qualify for any govt. based program vouchers, food stamps, pell grants etc.... you must file extensive forms detailing your income and assets.
It only seems fair. If you cannot offer full disclosure you are not entitled to a break. When parents receive a break on tuition- the money is being paid through other's tuition/donations.
This is not a matter of humiliating parents who cannot afford full tuition. Just like pple expect and demand the schools to give a full disclosure of spending & money- so too parents who want breaks have to justify it.
Obviously, in a matter respectful to privacy and dignity of everyone involved

May 24, 2006 2:00 PM  
Blogger Deborah Hoffman said...

They don't make the books open??? I must be naive. We're just entering the system this fall, but I have to say I was floored when I provided our financial information that showed our rent, student loan payments, groceries, and medical bills exceed our monthly income, and the financial aid we received amounted to the registration fee.

July 05, 2006 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Super color scheme, I like it! Good job. Go on.

July 20, 2006 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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July 22, 2006 3:40 AM  

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