The first phase of a fund-raising campaign initiated last year by Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva will allow the Edison school to pay off its mortgage.
In phase two, RPRY aims to shore up its endowment and capital fund to provide for future needs.
The $2 million Excellence and Innovation for the Future campaign has so far brought in $904,000 toward paying off the $981,000 remaining on a $2.7 million mortgage. The mortgage was taken out 18 years ago to add two wings of classrooms and a beit midrash, or study hall, to the 71-year-old school.
“We’ve made arrangements to pay off the mortgage by March 31,” said RPRY executive director Yehuda Kohn. Because some of the larger pledges are coming in over time, the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey has agreed to “bridge the gap” to ensure full payment is made by that date, he said.
“We’ve seen a fantastic community response because the support has been so broad,” said Kohn. “We’ve seen some very large donations, and some are for $18. It’s really very nice to see people participating at all levels.
“A lot of people are taking advantage of using appreciated stock, which is very advantageous to the donor because they get a tax benefit for the full amount and without paying capital gains,” said Kohn. “A lot of donors have corporate matches through their companies so they can multiply their pledges.”
School president Leslie Ostrin of Highland Park said retiring the mortgage would free up “a significant stream of money” that can then be earmarked for operating expenses, technology, and other educational purposes.
“We have a wonderful partnership with federation and, in fact, RPRY was one of the founding organizations of the federation in Middlesex County,” she said. “They stepped in and helped us with pledges so we could pay off the mortgage, and we are eternally grateful.”
Once the mortgage is paid, the 355-student school will embark on the second half of its campaign, which will help fund upgrades to the facility and establish an endowment fund, said campaign chair Elliot Frank of Highland Park.
“RPRY has been the basis of a growing community and has developed into this wonderful, heterogeneous place that gets along with all parts of its community better than any place I’ve seen,” he said.
In addition to providing additional funds, he said, the campaign recognizes the financial pressure on day school parents and the need for families whose children have aged out of the school to help those still paying tuitions.
“I focus on long-term financial stability,” said Frank. “One of the first things we realized was that we had to burn the mortgage. The school needs some capital improvements, and the way to ensure a future for our children is to ensure there is money for some needed improvements and endowments going forward.”
A separate fund-raiser not connected to the Excellence and Innovation campaign raised $200,000 at the school’s annual scholarship breakfast on Dec. 20, said Frank.
Ostrin said the school will be one of the institutions taking part in a federation-sponsored program training development professionals and community fund-raisers in “legacy” giving — estate plans, trust funds, and the like. The Life & Legacy program, a partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, will launch next month.
“We didn’t know that was coming,” Ostrin said, “but it was dead on point to exactly where we were in our focus. We feel so blessed that came along and that we were chosen to participate.”
Ostrin said any day school is maintained by its affordability and sustainability and, she noted, this is “a tremendously exciting time” for RPRY.
“We feel the school is intertwined with the whole Jewish community and will continue to establish and secure the community,” she said. “The mission of the school is clearly never to turn a child away for inability to pay. We are the community school and serve all different segments.”
She said its student body includes youngsters whose families affiliate with the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel of Edison/Highland Park, the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth, and Reform Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.
“Everybody respects everybody and interacts with everybody,” said Ostrin. “That is what makes this school so special. I feel so passionately about RPRY, but equally passionate about our community in Highland Park, Edison, East Brunswick, and outlying areas. We feel so grateful and appreciative to generations before us who sustained this school and we all benefit from it every day, every Shabbat. We want to make sure it’s here for generations to come.”