Parents say shuttered Hebrew Academy hasnt reimbursed tuition

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Some parents of children who attended the now-shuttered Lisa Kampner Hebrew Academy are angry that the Orthodox day school in San Francisco sought tuition payments for the coming academic year — and so far has failed to reimburse those funds.

School officials also haven’t told those parents when they can expect a refund.

San Francisco resident Leonid Vainerovsky told J. the Hebrew Academy contacted him and all school parents early this year, requesting full payment of tuition for the 2016-2017 school year in advance “because they wanted to know how many people would be in the school.”

Vainerovsky said he made payments in February and March totaling $5,400 to cover 2016-17 tuition for his son, Igal, now a 17-year-old senior. In early July, parents were informed in an email that the school was closing down immediately. The health concerns of the school’s founder and director, Rabbi Pinchas Lipner, were cited, along with financial struggles. The email offered help with “preparation of transcripts and other school records,” but made no mention of tuition reimbursement.

“After the school closed and we received the letter,” Vainerovsky said, “we started calling the school. They said, ‘We have no money. The school account has less than $100. You need to wait.’ ”

Hebrew Academy parents received an email on Aug. 23 from Bob Real, the school’s board president, saying: “We deeply apologize for the trouble caused which was beyond our control. We are committed to working with each family that is owed tuition money in a timely manner and to resolve this in a satisfactory way. We will be in touch in the next weeks to take care of this.”

In an email to J., Real said: “In reference to the concerns by several parents over prepaid tuition, we are looking at our options and will do what is in the best interests of the school and the community.”

Vainerovsky said his son had been a student at the academy for two years and “really loved it.” Though he had heard that rumors of a possible closing had circulated for years, Vainerovsky said, he dismissed them.

His son will complete high school via a community college program. Meanwhile, Vainerovsky said he plans to sue the Hebrew Academy to recover his tuition payments.

Also planning to sue is Mario Levi, whose 16-year-old daughter Veronika is a junior. Levi told J. he paid his daughter’s $8,000 tuition last spring, and when he learned of the school’s closing he sought information from administrators but was rebuffed.

“They acted very strange,” Levi said. “When I came to school, nobody would talk to us. I feel this is no way to do that kind of business. Jews to Jews: it’s robbery. They take money from the kids. They didn’t give us enough time to apply for public school. They gave me no money, so now no private school. We’re screwed.”

A group of Orthodox rabbis, Jewish day school administrators and community leaders including the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation have discussed launching a new school on the site of the Hebrew Academy for the 2017-18 school year.

“We are deeply concerned by the burdens on displaced LKHA families since the school’s closure, and want to be supportive of those who wish to continue with a Jewish education,” said Ilan Kayatsky, the JCF’s senior director of strategic communications. “We are presently exploring ways in which we can help LKHA families by providing financial aid resources to local Jewish schools that have enrolled these students.”

Not all parents of the Hebrew Academy’s 36 students are in similar financial straits.

Vladimir Shpitalnik, who had two sons enrolled in the school, said he was paying the 2016-17 tuition in monthly installments and that for him reimbursements are “a non-issue.”

Marina Izmayolovskaya, whose 16-year-old son Dennis is in 11th grade, told J. via email that the “school and Rabbi Lipner were really diligent in all their commitments, which I really appreciate.”

The school’s closure was bad enough for Vainerovsky, but potentially losing $5,400 in tuition payments has left him bitter.

“I am just completely outraged,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to believe that Lipner didn’t know anything about the school closing previously.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.