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Shalom Torah branches may merge in E. Windsor
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Shalom Torah branches may merge in E. Windsor

Financial woes may force shuttering of Monmouth school

Weeks after a letter was sent home to parents of students attending Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville, informing them the school would merge with the Shalom Torah school in East Windsor, the fate of the Monmouth County facility remains up in the air.

In the May 16 letter from Rabbi Moshe Bak, head of the Morganville school — which was obtained by NJJN — he wrote that the goal of the merger was “to consolidate in the short term to guarantee growth in the long term.”

On May 20, however, Nora Horn, general studies principal at the East Windsor school, said that decision was possibly being reevaluated, which was confirmed by a school representative on June 2. When a high-level administrator for the schools, who asked not to be named, was reached by NJJN, he said Morganville parents had organized a fund-raiser on the evening of May 18, which brought in a “substantial” amount of money, which he declined to specify. The school representative confirmed that fund-raising efforts are ongoing.

“Because the parents have pulled together to find the funds necessary, the plans to merge the schools have been put on hold,” said the administrator. “We are now making every effort to stay open, but can make no guarantees or promises.”

If Morganville does close, plans call for the combined school, serving through eighth grade, to operate out of the current East Windsor campus.

The flurry of activity came some 15 months after the financially troubled institutions filed for bankruptcy protection.

“It is no surprise that current economic conditions have caused many schools to suffer huge financial losses and, sadly, caused the closing of others,” wrote Bak. “To assure this will not happen to STA, in January the board of directors began a serious financial review. It studied many options and therefore concluded that the best decision to promote financial strength was to combine both Shalom Torah locations into one campus…starting September of 2011.”

The schools filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2010 in what they hoped was a first step in regaining solvency after a difficult period. Teachers and staff were at times not paid and debt mounted.

The East Windsor school would remain under the leadership of Rabbi Yaakov Freedman, who, Bak said, “is more than qualified and capable to continue the vision and mission I developed here in Morganville.” Bak, who did not return calls made to both the school or his cell phone, also announced that he will take over as head of school at the new Rambam Yeshiva of New Jersey, which will open in Old Bridge in September.

Bak addressed his departure in his letter. “The board of directors at Shalom and other community leaders all feel that the successful growth of our school, and the other Jewish day schools in this area, is directly tied to the availability of a great high school so our students’ options are not limited to commuting very long distances to attend a religious school, or go to a public school,” he wrote. “Even before the decision to consolidate STA was made, I was called upon to give of my time and energy in assisting” the creation of Rambam.

‘A terrible thing’

TSA in Monmouth draws its 190 students from mainly Monmouth and Middlesex counties. Although the school’s students are being encouraged to go to East Windsor, which has bus routes from Highland Park, all other area day schools in Monmouth and Middlesex called by NJJN reported they are receiving inquiries from local Shalom Torah parents.

Rabbi Stuart Saposh, head of school at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick, said his Conservative school has received a handful of inquiries.

“We can accommodate families from different Jewish settings, and we will work very hard to make any family who approaches us feel comfortable,” he said.

“This is not wonderful news for the Jewish community,” he said. “I only wish for successes for all our day schools….”

Rabbi Elie Tuchman, head of school at the Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore in Deal Park, called the possible closing of the Monmouth STA “a terrible thing” and said he had received a number of calls.

“We have an excellent, topnotch integrated program of secular and Judaic studies within a nurturing environment,” he said. “We have spaces in most classes.”

For upper grade students, Tuchman said, YJS, currently serving grades K-six is adding a seventh grade in September and an eighth grade the following year.

Barak Moore of East Windsor, who has six children in the East Windsor TSA, had nothing but positive things to say about the possible merger. The closure of the Morganville school was “definitely sad,” he said, but bringing its students to the approximately 130-student East Windsor facility was “the silver lining.”

“The teachers and staff have extraordinary love for the children and made a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice,” Moore said, “which really pulled them through this tough time.”

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