High tuition throttling day schools across U.S.

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But while academic excellence may require retaining more teachers, that is an expensive proposition for a small private school. Even with Jewish federation grants, holiday honey sales and spaghetti-feed fund-raisers, there never seems to be enough money for all the school's needs, Lapin said.

"We live in Silicon Valley and we don't have up-to-date computers. We get donations of old computers."

Eitz Chaim is not alone. Jewish day schools across the country find themselves torn between offering quality education, which can be expensive, and keeping tuition affordable.

"Unless additional revenue sources are found, the day school system as we currently know it will be bankrupt," said George Hanus, a Chicago educator and federation board member, during a recent national meeting of Jewish day school educators.

Because of the schools' insolvency, he said, the children who attend are primarily from wealthy and upper-middle-class families.

Many Jewish parents who would like to send their children to day schools — with average Bay Area tuition costs of about $6,000 — simply can't afford to, even with the modest scholarship assistance that many schools offer.

As a result, Jewish communities nationwide are being challenged to take up the gauntlet for day school funding.

In fact, a resolution intended to make funding for Jewish day school education a high communal priority will likely face delegates at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations when they meet Nov. 14 to 19 in Indianapolis.

The proposed resolution — which challenges communities to work to make day school education available to all Jewish children — came out of the first meeting of the National Jewish Day School Scholarship Committee held last month in Chicago.

The committee is a newly formed coalition of representatives from Chicago-area day schools, but the conference attracted 170 Jewish educators and federation leaders from around the country.

Those educators and leaders also agreed to bring similar resolutions before local federations. No Bay Area educators or federation officials are known to have attended.

In a rare show of unity, the conference drew delegates from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements, and received letters of support from the national leadership of each movement.

The premise of the conference was a simple one: Jewish day schools, which many American Jews view as the best antidote to assimilation, are seriously underfunded.

Tuition, as a result, remains prohibitively high.

The average day school tuition during the 1995-96 academic year was $5,059 to $5,465 at Reform movement schools, $6,083 at Conservative schools and $5,131 at Orthodox schools, according to a recent study.

In the Bay Area, day school tuition currently ranges from $2,800 for preschool to $9,000 for grade school and upper grades.

Speaking at the conference, Marvin Schick of New York, one of the study's authors, called day schools "the stepchild of American Jewish philanthropy."

Conference participants discussed a variety of strategies for translating resolutions into more money for day school education.

Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, stressed the need to find new sources of funding, rather than diverting money from other needs.

Nasatir suggested a three-pronged approach: supplemental gifts to federations for day schools, in addition to annual campaign contributions; capital giving programs to fund new and expanded buildings; and federation help to develop communitywide endowments for day schools.

Robert Sherman, executive director of the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education, agreed that such an approach is needed, but he warned against "simplistic responses.

"If we are going to make this kind of education as accessible as possible, it has to rely on other strategies such as fund-raising and more creative things that we haven't even begun to think about."

As chief of the BJE, Sherman helps local federations identify educational needs at day schools, camps and in adult education. To remedy the Bay Area's day school shortfall, he called for more centralized staff development that would offset each school's expenses, greater support from private foundations and more sharing of resources among day schools.

In fact, administrators from 11 area day schools from South Bay to Sacramento already meet monthly to talk about communal issues. In a separate effort next month, they will collaborate on strategies for economic development.

Many of the schools plan to share a Judaic studies curriculum now being developed by a rabbi at Brandeis Hillel Day School.

But more must be done elsewhere in the community to aid day schools, according to Sherman. He pointed to the Samis Foundation of Seattle as such a force.

The Orthodox foundation gave enough money to Seattle's Northwest Yeshiva High School to reduce its $6,000 tuition by more than 50 percent. Subsequently, enrollment jumped by 50 percent, bringing more money to the school.

At the Chicago conference, Rabbi Nathan Laufer, president of the Wexner Heritage Foundation and moderator of the conference, proposed that local day schools of all streams work with local federations to establish dedicated community endowments.

"Day school education is one of the few things that has the possibility to reunite the community toward one commonality — the survival of the American Jewish community," he said.

That view also is shared by local day school educators.

"When the Jewish community invests in a Jewish child's education, they are investing in future [Jewish community] leadership," said Rabbi Henry Shreibman, head of Brandeis Hillel Day School.

With more than 400 students on two campuses — one in San Francisco and the other in San Rafael — the nondenominational K-8 school is the largest in the Bay Area. Consequently, it's also the most expensive to run.

Though it received about $300,000 this year from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, that sum covers only 7 percent of the operating budget. And tuition is already high at about $9,000, which means that funds for capital investments and other educational needs must come from new sources.

At Oakland Hebrew Day School, Rabbi Elie Tuchman, the director, said he tries to give tuition discounts to as many students as possible to keep enrollment up. But the cost of education is so high that even students who pay full tuition only cover half the cost of their education.

The other 50 percent comes from the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and other granting agencies.

"It's always a struggle," Tuchman said. "We really can't charge more tuition because we want to keep day school affordable."

And that, according to the Chicago federation's Hanus, is the impetus for passing resolutions both at the local and national levels.

"It's simply a means of asking each city federation: `Where does the community philanthropy stand on Jewish education as a doctrine?' "

Bay Area federations have made their position clear — youth education is their No. 1 priority.

The S.F.-based JCF provides six day schools with $1,000 per student, twice the national average for federation support, according to Richard Sipser, director of planning and allocations.

And that $1,000 doesn't include supplemental capital endowments and other support services often provided by JCF.

In addition, area day schools this year got an unexpected shot in the arm after the S.F.-based JCF decreased the amount normally sent overseas by nearly $400,000. Local spending, by contrast, jumped $871,718, much of it diverted to educational coffers.

Sipser said the JCF will be discussing the conference's call to action but noted that it's too soon to determine how it may change funding.

"One element that could be very helpful [to future funding] is the existence of some permanently endowed funds that could be earmarked for scholarship assistance."

And that, of course, depends on whether the day schools can strike a sympathetic chord with philanthropists.

The Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose also have increased day school allocations in recent years.

Hanus said his committee would publish a "national honor roll" of federations that pass the proposed resolution, titled the Resolution for Individual Federations.

The committee, he said, might also create a clearinghouse of funding information and ideas, publish a newsletter to report on the progress of local communities and convene further meetings to move the funding agenda forward.

"There's an opportunity here," Schick said. "Let's not lose the moment."

In the meantime, staff and students at Eitz Chaim Academy will continue to clip Betty Crocker box tops for cash rebates and line their trash cans with recycled paper shopping bags.

While more financial assistance would be a dream come true, the academy's Lapin said, "I'm still grateful for what I get."