Better management could net US day schools $100m a year

Study of Jewish schools' financing reveals potential for 'huge turnaround.'

children in school 224.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
children in school 224.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Jewish day schools in the US could generate $100 million annually through better financial management, a new study has found. The study identified lapses in financial planning and missed fund-raising opportunities in a survey of school board presidents. Among its findings, only 24 percent of board presidents said their schools had comprehensive long-range plans. The "first-of-its-kind" study, by the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University, underscored concern in the American Jewish community regarding the affordability of Jewish education. As a basis for identifying areas for improvement, researchers surveyed 72 board presidents, assessing their answers to questions about fiduciary responsibility, fund-raising, strategic planning, and the board-head of school relationship, among other things. Less than 40% of board presidents said their schools were fulfilling basic obligations for financial planning. Only a third thought that board members gave their schools their top personal philanthropic gifts or generated financial support for school events. "If we just grasp that opportunity in of itself, we can make a huge turnaround," said Harry Bloom, the study's author and the director of planning and performance improvement at the institute. Jewish day schools make up a $2 billion enterprise, according to Bloom, who said financial aid coffers stood at $500 m. and were growing. The study targeted board presidents affiliated with schools across the religious spectrum, from Orthodox day schools to Reform and community day schools, all of which have been impacted by the economic downturn. Indeed, the study comes just as Jewish institutions are grappling with financial problems that have prompted some schools to cut teacher salaries and things like professional development. Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of the institute, said that while schools must find ways to cut spending, the schools' quality can be maintained, "by maximizing fund-raising and strategic financial planning." At a news conference in New York on Monday, Bloom identified the institute's four-pronged strategy to address school affordability, including one addressing the lapses in financial planning outlined in the survey. According to Bloom, communal fund-raising could generate $50m. annually, and interschool collaboration could yield between $50m. and $150m. each year. Government funding should be pursued, and revenue enhancement and financial planning by school boards could generate $100m. annually, he said. Indeed, only about a quarter of board presidents said their board meetings focused on strategic issues versus operational issues, the study found. Only a third of presidents said the annual board goals were consistent with the strategic plan. "All too often our boards fall into the trap of managing education," Bloom said. What are they doing if they're managing education? "Not managing the finances of the school." So far, the institute is working with communities on New York's Long Island and in Philadelphia and Bergen County, New Jersey, to implement the multi-faceted "attack," according to Bloom. "We intend to take this on a road show and basically cause this to be an impetus for change," he said. It's not about inexpensive schools or running programs to save money on healthcare, he said, referring to an initiative pushed by groups including the Orthodox Union. "Those are important, [but] they're not sufficient." "At a time when the economics of day school education have hit the crisis stage, it is incumbent upon the board members to serve as leaders both in planning as well as fund-raising and their own personal giving," said Michelle Friedman, board president of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, which has been working with the institute.