Paula Gottesman and her husband, Jerry, believe that a thriving Jewish future requires educated Jews, and that it is a communal responsibility to provide the means for quality Jewish education. The Gottesmans are pioneers in the development of programs for middle-income affordability and day school endowments.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Money of course does matter, in myriad ways, to the functioning of our schools. Just as important are the perceptions about money that circulate among stakeholders: How do funders decide where to put their money? What do employees think and say about salary and work conditions? How do parents and prospective parents understand the school's value? What are the explicit and implicit messages students learn about money? Authors present guidance and reflections on the systems of day school finances while exploring the questions around school value.
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Tuitions in our time are inexorably following an upward curve. How can we be sure that families are getting what they pay for?
Is our school worth it?
These five words lie at the heart of the private school experience—for families, for students, and for governing bodies. No matter what the dollar figures being discussed might be—four thousand or forty—this query lies at the center of the most critical conversations in a school’s existence: parental decisions, board tuition-setting meetings, and even those casual social discussions that determine a school’s reputation on the cocktail-party circuit or in the carpool caucus.
In Field of Dreams, actor Kevin Costner plays an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field on his land after hearing a mysterious voice which whispers “if you build it, HE will come.” “HE” is a former baseball great who eventually appears on the Iowa ball field, joined by other (deceased) baseball greats. The film ends in true Hollywood style: throngs of people come to this Iowa ball field to see the former baseball greats play on Costner’s land.
Capital campaigns. Scholarship funds. Teacher salaries. Tuition increases. Schools can’t afford (quite literally) to ignore the topic of money. Indeed, board members and heads of school may well feel the bulk of their work is dedicated to money: raising it, allocating it, worrying about it. And yet, with rare exception, schools are not teaching their students about money.
In healthy, stable organizations with strong leadership and governance, a short-term resource challenge and even a crisis can generate innovative, adaptive thinking and great leadership. However, a steady state of financial disequilibrium can lull leaders into a vicious cycle of short-term thinking and what I would call “make-sure-we’re-still-around-tomorrow management.” When school leaders are constantly worried about balancing budgets, declining enrollment, sustaining programs, and meeting our fundraising goals, who has time to think strategically, creatively, adaptively?
Jewish day schools strive to teach students challenging academic content in a range of disciplines, to create caring communities of moral sensitivity, and to graduate future leaders of the Jewish people. This broad set of expectations and aspirations leaves Jewish day school leaders stretching limited resources to accomplish many goals.
In the world of nonprofits, schools have specific rules and regulations to which they must adhere. A school needs to provide information to its administrators and board of trustees; it must adopt good internal controls and administrative policies; and it must begin these practices when the school is small so that the best practices are in place and additional procedures added as the school grows.
As we all know, money does matter. Nothing could be more appropriate than the topic of the financial wherewithal of our day schools. But it is also important to focus on how to put the “matter” back into the money as we keep our eye on the bottom line. With a focus on “matter,” we can increase revenue and make philanthropy more meaningful and impactful for all involved.
This interview, the first in a series of author interviews to take place in each issue, was published in partnership with the Jewish Book Council, a not-for-profit devoted to promoting the reading, writing, and publishing of books of Jewish interest (jewishbookcouncil.org).
Describe your personal journey in writing The Just Market.
Over the last fifteen years, the Supreme Court precedent has made it clear that governmental programs that fund parochial schools in the United States are constitutional. The thrust of this short piece is to note that Jewish day schools must join many other parochial schools in advocating for increased government funding of the private school system within the United States, and with such a change implemented, the basic financial situation of all Jewish schools would change dramatically and for the better. The “money” issue would go away.
“All knowledge you’ll ever learn, every experience you’ll have in life, are the circles. They’re not the center. If you don’t have a solid center, you’ll have jagged circles, incomplete circles, many different circles.” Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
וְהַכֶּסֶף יַעֲנֶה אֶת הַכֹּל- “Money answers all things.” (Kohelet 10.19)
I am the new head of a Jewish day school who is considering moving my family into a home in the community I serve. While I value the convenience of living in close proximity to my work (and my children’s school), I am concerned about potential difficulties that living so close to the school community may present. How can I maximize the benefits of this arrangement and avoid some of the pitfalls?
Talk about a mixed blessing—this is it! You have highlighted the key issues to consider in your question. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
In the fall of 2014, recognizing the importance of financial aid to day school families, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) surveyed 56 diverse Jewish day schools from across North America to learn about their financial aid practices. Using questions from PEJE’s new Recruitment & Retention Self-Assessment Tool (RSAT), which enables schools to assess where they stand relative to best practices, we were able to analyze the current state of financial aid.
These are critical times for the sustainability of Jewish day schools across North America. Many are struggling with changing demographics, declining enrollment, increased need for financial aid, and budgetary strain.
What percentage of your school’s operating budget goes to salaries and benefits? If your school is like most, the answer is probably between 65% and 80%. In other words, your single largest budget line, by a long shot, is compensation for your faculty and staff.
However, while the compensation line is the heavyweight of your budget, it is likely one of the most opaque and least understood. Research indicates that increased transparency during the hiring process and beyond benefits schools.