In an effort to address both the high cost of Jewish day school education and the declining number of day school students in the Greater MetroWest area, the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston is launching a major new initiative this spring.
The Modern Orthodox school will offer up to $37,500 over five years to families who move into the area, join a synagogue, and enroll their children at Kushner.
Additionally, the school is offering a guaranteed cap on tuition for qualified families no matter how many children they have enrolled, which division of the school they are in, or how much tuition rises.
“The programs we have put in place target community growth and affordability,” said Sandra Blank, Kushner’s director of admissions and community relations. After reviewing a yearly report on enrollment, she said, “It was obvious to us that the school and community are struggling with attrition, and not because of academics.”
She added that families leave “primarily because they are relocating, either to Israel or out of the tristate area, sometimes for cost savings.”
The Kushner plan is the first unveiling of a community-wide initiative that will eventually include similar, but not identical, programs at the other three area day schools: Golda Och Academy, a Conservative day school in West Orange; Gottesman RTW Academy, a community day school in Randolph; and the Orthodox Jewish Educational Center of Elizabeth.
All four schools are partners in the Greater MetroWest Day School Initiative, which has become a national model for addressing tuition costs through fund-raising and collaboration (see sidebar).
Kushner’s program is “an important concept that we have been working on with all of the day schools, and we hope to roll out more in the near future,” said Kim Hirsh, who administers the Day School Fund as director of philanthropic initiatives for the Jewish Community Foundation. “More information on the community-wide plan will be released later in the spring,” she said.
Kushner is implementing its plan in partnership with Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation, and five local Orthodox synagogues from which most of Kushner’s students are drawn, particularly in the lower grades. They are Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David and Congregation Ohr Torah, in West Orange; Congregation Etz Chaim and Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, in Livingston; and Congregation Israel of Springfield.
Three of the five synagogues, AABJ&D, Suburban Torah, and Congregation Israel, already have their own campaigns to recruit young families to the area.
Kushner tuition starts at $11,800 for pre-kindergarten and rises to $23,500 by the end of high school, not including a building fund and family obligations.
In the first part of the new initiative, any family moving into a local community and joining one of the five participating synagogues between December 2014 and January 2017 is eligible for a $2,500 tuition reduction per year for up to five years, for up to two children born within three years of moving.
In addition, the participating synagogues are offering up to $12,500 per family to cover a range of costs from membership to mortgage assistance.
In the second part of the initiative, families earning between $150,000 and $275,000 who qualify will have their tuition fixed and capped at a percentage of adjusted gross income.
“Their tuition will never exceed that number, no matter what the school’s actual tuition is or how many children they have enrolled at the school,” said Blank, as long as they remain eligible.
The cap reflects a shift in addressing “middle-income affordability,” an approach pioneered locally by Morristown philanthropist Paula Gottesman and first implemented at the Gottesman RTW Academy, formerly Hebrew Academy of Morris County, in Randolph in 1998.
“She understood that middle-income people were getting squashed — that people at the top income brackets can afford tuition, and people in the lower third get scholarships,” said Hirsh.
Kushner has had a middle-income program for five years, thanks largely to support from the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation and in collaboration with the Greater MetroWest Day School Initiative.
However, under that scheme, as tuition rose, so did the amount middle-income families had to pay. And as a family enrolled more children in the school, total tuition rose accordingly.
The cap “gives parents the ability to plan and understand their commitment to Jewish education before they get started. We have heard our parents,” Blank said.
Both the recruitment incentive and the affordability initiative join the school’s already existing traditional scholarship program to form a three-pronged approach to affordability and recruitment.
Families eligible for this new incentive who are also eligible for either the middle-income affordability and/or traditional financial assistance programs may take advantage of just one of these, whichever provides the greatest benefit.
Steve Levy of Morristown, treasurer at the Gottesman RTW School and one of the overall architects of the community-wide program, called the effort “turbocharging the middle-income programs and taking them to the next level.”