Citing low enrollment, the West Orange Cooperative Yeshiva, which was slated to launch with a kindergarten and first-grade class in September, will not open its doors this school year.
The yeshiva was scheduled to begin classes in space leased from Congregation Beth Ahm of West Essex in Verona; instead, many of the prospective students will be enrolled at other area schools.
Launched last spring, the yeshiva planned to charge tuition fees considerably lower than those of existing day schools. Organizers planned to hold down costs in part by asking parents to take an active role in its day-to-day operations.
Organizers suggested that prospective families instead enrolled in existing day schools, including the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, lured by “wonderfully reduced tuition rates that they were not offered in the past.”
Kushner officials disputed this, saying they work with all families in order to help them meet tuition costs.
According to Larry Hollander of West Orange, one of WOCY’s founders, the school had up to 10 students potentially on its roster. He said he knows that at least two of the prospective students are now planning to go to Kushner; he was unsure about the others.
He also acknowledged that many of the prospective WOCY students had maintained enrollments in other schools all along to ensure there would be a spot for them.
Nevertheless, in a statement announcing the closing, WOCY organizers claimed that local yeshivot were motivated to “match and even beat our tuition rates for many West Orange students this year.”
“I look at it as a positive,” said Hollander, who declined to provide the names of families enrolled in other schools. “They were getting better discounts than they were getting the previous years.”
Ed Zughaft and Daniel Israeli, copresidents of JKHA and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, said that financial assistance decisions, which are made by a separate scholarship committee not comprising any current Kushner parents, are based solely on applicants’ financial need.
“Our guidelines have been consistent and have not changed,” said Israeli, a West Orange resident.
He noted that well over 90 percent of families who apply for aid reach an agreement with the school based on their financial need. Kushner has awarded over $2 million in financial assistance for the coming school year.
“Tuition affordability is something that’s very critical,” said Zughaft, who also lives in West Orange. “We’ve treated it very seriously for a number of years.”
Hollander said that WOCY had signed no formal lease with Beth Ahm. As for the one faculty member who had been hired, kindergarten teacher Lea-Nora Kordova, he said they are also assisting her with finding a new job.
Laurie Brandt, an administrator at Beth Ahm, confirmed that no lease had been signed and that there were no hard feelings.
“They were lovely people to meet with,” she said, “and we wish them the best.”
WOCY had planned to charge $8,000 per year, with no additional fees; plans were to add one grade per year through the elementary grades.
Other local Jewish elementary day schools charge between $8,200 and $14,000, not including additional fees (and before tuition subvention grants for those who qualify).
At least one parent who was counting on a lower-cost school in the area was disappointed by the news. “I am so unbelievably angry,” the parent wrote on 200kchump.blogspot.com, a popular northern New Jersey blog that serves as a forum for parents to lament the high cost of day school education. “I live in West Orange and was seriously hoping this would be an option for my young children.”
Efforts to reach that parent and others who had posted comments on the blog were unsuccessful.