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Op-Ed: A Practical Solution to the Tuition Crisis

by Anonymous

Every few months, we are met with a variation of the same headline: Teachers on Strike Due to Lack of Pay, School to Remain Closed. The Tuition Crisis, as it has come to be known, is a menace always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce at any moment.

But why does this crisis perpetually exist? After-all, there is no corresponding “supermarket crisis,” in which the supermarket owners go on strike due to lack of pay for the food they provide to our families.

There are two easily identifiable causes: 1. Waste and mismanagement by the school’s administrators. 2. Many parents are not up to date with their children’s tuition, and some schools (perhaps rightfully) feel that it would be inappropriate to send a child onto the streets due to her/his parents’ financial troubles.

Now let’s do some math:

A normal sized classroom has 20 students. A very reasonable tuition is $5,000 per year. $5000 x 20 = $100,000.

The solution is staring us in the face. Parents should pay the teachers directly! If a teacher would receive only $5,000 from each of 20 students, they would make a six-figure salary!

No longer would the tuition money be filtered through an ineffective administration and a few cents on the dollar trickle down to the foundation of the school – the teachers – but only after everyone else, from the top administrator to the janitor, was paid first. The money will filter through the teachers now, and trickle up to everyone else.

How will that work? What about the building costs? The administrative costs? The janitors and cooks?

Simple, the school will charge a fee to every teacher to “rent” their classroom. Like all rent payments, this fee will include all administrative and maintenance costs.

What if the administrator jacks up the fee, leaving the teacher with hardly a paycheck remaining? Simple, the teacher can take his/her business elsewhere. There are dozens of Shuls in Crown Heights that sit empty all week long. If, say, Bais Rivkah charges a classroom fee that is too high, a teacher may calculate that it’s worth it to run her classroom in a shul or community center, while paying for the rent and cleaning costs (etc.) out of her own pocket.

While there undoubtedly are benefits to a unified school in one building, none of these benefits outweigh the dire importance of teachers being paid a proper wage on time. In fact, the lack of pay is the primary cause that drives talented teachers away from our community and away from this career altogether. Implementing this system will make teaching a highly attractive and lucrative career, and it will attract the most talented young men and women into the field of Chinuch. Any benefit to having a classroom within the environment of a large school building will surely be outweighed by the benefit of having talented and motivated teachers educate our children – wherever that may take place.

Who will provide lunch? that is up to the teachers and parents. Some teachers may choose to charge a bit more and provide lunch, and some may just have the parents send lunch with their kids (which is how most public schools in this country operate).

And what about those financially struggling parents who can’t pay. I have two responses:

1. Why should the teachers be the scapegoats to bear the burden of those less fortunate? Why not the grocer? Why not the landlord? Why is it that everyone requires on-time payment – or else no service – but when it comes to education suddenly it’s ok to cry poverty and not pay the bill. $400 a month per child is a very reasonable fee for a child’s education, even for those who are struggling. Maybe they’ll have to make some hard choices. Maybe they’ll have to forgo the car, or eating out, or hosting Shabbos, or that summer vacation. But which of those things is more important than paying your child’s teacher on time?!

2. I’m sure that if teachers are paid on time by the vast majority of their students, they will make room for those one or two students whose parents truly cannot pay. It can be their Maaser; for every nine paying students, they will accept one student who cannot pay. Or two students at half price. This should be more than enough to make sure no one ends up on the streets – but that no one is getting a free ride at a poor teacher’s expense either.

In practice, what I’m suggesting is nothing new. I’m merely advocating a return to the way things were for hundreds of years in the “old home.” Parents paid the Melamed directly for their children’s education, and it was up to the Melamed to make all other arrangements, such as location (which was usually a room in the town’s synagogue. In fact that’s how the synagogue got the name “Shul” which is the word for school in German/Yiddish). The Melamdim would accept less money from the poorer students, while the wealthier ones were happy to pay for the Jewish continuity of their town’s next generation.

Enough with the talk, let’s talk practicality.

Someone should build a simple website where teachers can list their services, for example:

Rabbi M. Cohen – Boys’ Teacher / Grade: 7th/ Experience: 4 Years / Classroom Size: 18 Max. / Cost: $4,500 per year / Lunch: not included / transportation: Not included.

Mrs. N. Levy – Girls’ Teacher / Grade: 4th/ Experience: 15 Years / Classroom Size: 20 Max. / Cost: $5,600 per year / Lunch: included / transportation: not included.

Prospective parents would apply directly to teachers through the website, and would have to submit a credit card to which the monthly tuition could be billed. The teachers will have the option to require that one extra month be paid in advance, so that in the event of non-payment, they will have a full month to obtain the remaining funds without having to resort to either sending the child home or being unable to make their bills.

Each classroom in this network (despite potentially being in separate locations) can be considered one large school, and can gather together on special occasions for a school-wide rally and other such events.

The power is in our hands to take back control of our schools and our children’s education. When will we exercise it?

28 Comments

  • 1. A crown heightser wrote:

    While a lovely idea, please realize the impracticality of what you suggest. The liability issues, the lack of oversight, the inability to move your child if a teacher is not the right fit, etc. I could go on and on.

    Beyond the fact that the vast majority of parents are NOT paying $5000 per child. Most parents pay between $1000 and $4000 per child.

    What happens if a parent signs up and doesn’t pay? What teacher is going to kick a child out? Or take a parent to bais din?

    What of all the government programs our community benefits from like headstart, free breakfast & lunches, therapies for children like speech, PT, OT?

    The Board of Bais Rivkah is diligently working behind the scenes to get the school and administration in order. Perhaps our efforts would be better focused in supporting them in their efforts.

    Reply
    • 2. TJ wrote:

      I see the Bais Rivkah Board PR team is getting paid on time. Maybe that’s why the teachers’ aren’t.

      Don’t be so afraid of losing control, everyone will be better off and you’ll have more time to play golf. Win-win.

    • 3. A crown heightser wrote:

      Actually I am not an employee of BR, I am merely a parent like you probably are. I am in pain as well about the teacher’s pay.

      I know for a fact that BR board came into a mess and is diligently working to get it fixed. Part of that solution is parents paying tuition, fundraising, and cleaning house.

  • 4. Berel wrote:

    This is very practical. 2000 girls of different ages. 100 schools. 100 playgrounds. 100 transportation options. 100 people managing the home-schooling/schooling documentation for the government. 100 people managing the social service aid and aid workers. 100 people managing food. 100 people managing collections. 100 people managing sub lists. 100 people managing parent/school real time communications.

    Cool game, can you think of any more?

    This will work and nothing will go wrong and it will save a lot money because everyone knows how much money you save when you break up services that could be provided by few people to many into services to be provided by many people to few.

    Revolutionary.

    Reply
    • 5. Anonymous wrote:

      Administrative costs go down with scale. You don’t need 10 administrators and a collections department to run a single classroom with 15-20 kids.

  • 8. nsker wrote:

    $5000 x 20 = $100,000. You said it all. $5000 is NOT a reasonable tuition.

    A reasonable salary of one teacher or melamed is, say, $50,000. And that’s very low, if you ask me; imagine raising a large family with both parents teaching, even assuming they get paid on time. Good melamdim deserve a lot more than that.

    With payroll taxes and medical insurance, it comes close to $100,000 already. But this does not include the building, transportation, supplies, lunch and other expenses. There is typically an assistant teacher needed, and principals, psychologists and other professionals are not just parasites either. A reasonable tuition for a school like Beth Rivka would be about $12-13,000 in my rough estimation, minus any government subsidies for those who are eligible.

    Reply
  • 9. busy bubby wrote:

    This is not a new suggestion and it would not work. Just ask the independent pre-school or home day care providers just how much fun they have trying to collect the tuition and deal with difficult parents all by themselves. They operate lovely schools but they will tell you that if they had to work even harder to provide lessons and plans or shepherd kids to public playgrounds, it probably wouldn’t pay. It somehow works for preschools and home day care providers because they don’t need to put in as many after work hours as an academic teacher would.
    Remember also that some children need a variety of special services which would be difficult to provide in any informal arrangement. There are numerous children in frum schools who, due to difficult circumstances at home, need a responsive staff rather than one overwhelmed teacher with no other adult available in the building.
    Let’s also ask if these teachers would be licensed in any way because there needs to be adequate insurance for schools, even those in people’s homes. Not all shuls are safe for use as schools for young children.

    Reply
  • 10. To answer your question wrote:

    “1. Why should the teachers be the scapegoats to bear the burden of those less fortunate? Why not the grocer? Why not the landlord? Why is it that everyone requires on-time payment – or else no service – but when it comes to education suddenly it’s ok to cry poverty and not pay the bill.”

    The answer is because the Torah says so. In Shulchan Aruch it says explicitly that every child is ENTITLED to a Jewish education and that if the parents can not pay then the money should be taken from the community coffers and the rich can be compelled to pay for this.

    Reply
    • 11. Ezra wrote:

      First of all, that halachah applies to boys, not girls.

      Second, it covers only the teaching of Tanach. Anything else, the parents are responsible for payment.

  • 12. Berel wrote:

    “In practice, what I’m suggesting is nothing new. I’m merely advocating a return to the way things were for hundreds of years in the “old home.” Parents paid the Melamed directly for their children’s education, and it was up to the Melamed to make all other arrangements, such as location (which was usually a room in the town’s synagogue. In fact that’s how the synagogue got the name “Shul” which is the word for school in German/Yiddish). The Melamdim would accept less money from the poorer students, while the wealthier ones were happy to pay for the Jewish continuity of their town’s next generation.”

    Right.

    In reality a minority of Jewish boys and no Jewish girls received a formal elementary education. They got what they got in the home and married and worked early and remained in the fold because shtetle was a smaller, simpler place where giants roamed the earth.

    In our times…I’m not even going to go there.

    Your solution is no such thing, it is the dystopian nightmare outcome of a complete and utter systemic failure.

    May G-d save us from your ‘solution.’

    Reply
  • 14. Parent wrote:

    Tuition checks are not cashed till months later.

    This is pure missmanagemt and nothing else.

    Tuition should go 90-100% to the teacher

    Building etc that’s what you fundraise for..

    Reply
  • 17. Mistake #q wrote:

    normal sized classroom has 20 students. A very reasonable tuition is $5,000 per year. $5000 x 20 = $100,000.

    A family with 2 working parents with 6 7 8 kids can really afford $40,000 for tuition?

    Reply
  • 18. @ Author of op-ed wrote:

    I am sorry to tell you but to write such an article you know close to nothing about costs, how to run a proper institution, and what it involves.

    Reply
  • 19. Great idea except for 1 thing wrote:

    Great idea except for one little fact about the “Alter Heim” that you forget to mention, people with NO money did NOT get the “privilege” to learn Torah (See Talmud Bavli, Yuma 35b,) they grew up with whatever their parents could teach, they went to work at 8 years old.
    Oh! and also one little fact that our REBBE put the onus of educating every Jewish child (which by the way, includes children from frum, Lubavitch, anash as well, NOT just children in public schools!) On the schools.
    I believe the Rebbe actually made it one of the 10 mivtzoim!

    Reply
  • 20. rivka wrote:

    No, this is not a practical solution at all. The only practical solution is really to have someone in charge of fundraising and not rely on tuition. Parents should not have to be pressured to pay full tuition if they cannot. A school cannot exist solely on tuition payments!
    If the author thinks a school should rent classrooms…so why not just forget the school altogether and just form small classes of ten kids per class, parents get together and hire their own melamed and utilize peoples basements etc to learn in.? that might even be a better solution. cheaper, better learning and you bypass the problems

    Reply
  • 21. just an idea wrote:

    perhaps one way is to cut down on the amount of administrators. I don’t know how many work at say BR.
    I am sure there are lots of people that can be cut from the payroll. assistant principles and so on.
    let these jobs get paid by donations and not tuition.
    jut an idea

    Reply
  • 22. Most Practical Solution to the Tuition Crisis wrote:

    The most Practical Solution to the Tuition Crisis
    is to keep writing online op-eds.

    Reply
  • 23. The board's job wrote:

    You made one good point: the school’s MOST IMPORTANT expenses need to be paid FIRST (even though your numbers are unreasonable). Beis Rivkah admitted to me last year that only a fraction of their money goes to teachers.

    The less important expenses could be paid if anything is left, or the least important expenses could be dropped. Many, many families already cut experiences that you accuse them of endulging in. Why shouldn’t the administration likewise cut wasteful spending?!?

    We live in a world where businesses become more efficient every year and reduce expenses. It seems to be the the duty of the school board and administration to do the same.

    Reply
  • 24. Yudi wrote:

    Here’s the real problem. Not politically correct, but true nonetheless. Why is it different in Chabad than every other group, Viznitz, Gur, Satmar etc.? How come they’re not struggling every single year with their teachers on strike and threats to close down their institutions? We are different in one way alone, we have thousands of talented young men and women around the world, very motivated people and great fundraisers, just like all these other groups, yet instead of fundraising for the core of this group’s institutions, 770 looks like a homeless shelter, all the other schools and institutions are struggling mightily while in Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Tibet and Hawaii they’re building multi million dollar campuses.
    I think the solution is quite obvious….

    Reply
    • 25. Avi wrote:

      “and great fundraisers”

      How about people go to work instead of begging?

      How about getting a decent secular education so that people can find decent paying jobs?

  • 26. DG770 wrote:

    This all sounds very good, but there is just one small problem. Your average Lubavitch family has like 7 or 8 kids, or more. In which case $5000 a year for each kid is not at all affordable for them.

    Reply
  • 27. Number 25 thank u wrote:

    That’s the exact same thought I had. Beat me to It. Thank you for posting. The hard reality is that nothing has changed from 40 or 50 years ago when the institutions were also in dire financial straits on a regular basis. The difference is simply the type and caliber person now in charge of these very same institutions we no longer have the Rashag or Reb Yossel Weinberg and fundraisers like them who incidentally still exist actually only with different names however the institutions cannot tolerate that a talented and effective fundraiser should actually earn a good living on their back. A very silly way of thinking since the hundreds of thousands they would bring in would literally make the difference between reaching breaking point financially and keep these institutions a considerable distance from a financial cliff. Let these talented people come in and do what they do best and so what if they take a considerable cut they need too bcse the cost of living today and raising a family is just ridiculous and the more peace of mind they have the more effective they will be in raising much needed funds.

    Reply
  • 28. to 21 wrote:

    You say you don’t know how many people work there- so why do you make a suggestion that makes no sense? BR does not have a large amount of administration BY FAR. It is a huge school, with minimal, administration working so hard to keep the school going. It is really disappointing and disenchanting to see how little education is valued in “Lubavitch.” So much being done reactively, at the last second… Running a school properly is not an optional expense! Did you listen to Malky Klein’s father talk about what happened with his daughter? She received all kinds of help, but guess what, it was one big mess, with a poor soul suffering until it was too late. I wonder what if there were administrators involved actually educated, and experienced, and available to figure out what was happening, and put together a functional plan for her? That doesn’t happen when you have harried, unavailable, uneducated principals. The work of the administration is vital to the school.

    Reply

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