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entries tagged with: Bergen County

 

Christie faces ‘uphill battle’ in blue-law fight

Blue law advocates and detractors criticized Gov. Chris Christie’s plans, announced last week, to repeal Bergen County’s blue laws limiting businesses on Sunday, in order to boost state tax revenue.

The governor suggested the plan as part of a $29.3 billion 2011 budget that includes caps on property taxes and cuts to hundreds of state programs. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak told The Jewish Standard that repealing the blue laws would require legislative approval but would result in an additional $65 million in tax revenues for the cash-strapped state.

Christie “has no philosophical support for shopping on Sundays,” Drewniak said. “It was merely a practical recognition of potential revenues.”

The announcement drew a storm of criticism from Bergen County, even from those who support loosening the Sunday shopping restrictions. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), who ran on the Democratic ticket for lieutenant governor in last year’s election, said Christie made “a rookie mistake” in thinking he can gain support to repeal the Sunday restrictions.

“Blue laws can’t be wished away,” she said. “There is a law on the books that it can only be done by county-wide referendum.”

Bergen is the only one of New Jersey’s 21 counties that still maintains the restrictions.

In 2002, then-Assemblywoman Weinberg tried to advance a bill for individual communities in the county to opt out of the laws, but she was met with fierce opposition in the form of thousands of e-mails and voice messages.

“It’s one of the few issues I’ve ever dropped,” Weinberg said. “The telephones were so overwhelmed, the staff couldn’t work here.”

Elie Y. Katz, a Teaneck councilman and former township mayor, experienced a similar backlash in 2006 when he tried to push a referendum that would allow towns to opt out.

“It’s certainly not going to be a cakewalk for the governor,” Katz said. “Based on my personal experience as mayor and Sen. Weinberg’s experience as assemblywoman, the governor’s got a real uphill battle.”

At the heart of the issue, according to Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, is the quality of life for county residents. During a telephone interview on Tuesday, McNerney accused Christie of trying to raise the taxes of Bergen residents, who would foot the bill for the effects of Sunday shopping.

“There’d be more traffic,” McNerney said. “That means more police, more first responders, higher property taxes, and a deterioration in the quality of life for many residents.”

McNerney also lambasted Christie’s plan to open the Xanadu shopping center in East Rutherford, still under construction, for Sunday shopping.

McNerney accused the governor of creating “an artificial crisis” and questioned his anticipated revenue of $65 million. Weinberg also questioned the figure’s source.

Drewniak in the governor’s office had no answer when asked about the figure’s origin.

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, a columnist for this paper and an outspoken critic of the blue laws, criticized Christie’s budget proposals, which include many cuts to education services, but praised the governor for attempting to tackle the blue laws.

“Overall the governor’s budget proposals, especially in the area of education, will destroy New Jersey,” he said. “In this one instance, I think he’s finally doing something smart.”

The North Jersey Board of Rabbis, of which Engelmayer is the former president, has come out in support of allowing individual towns to opt out of the blue laws. The board has also taken issue with Saturday-only sales, citing discrimination against Shabbat-observers and Seventh Day Adventists, who also observe a Saturday Sabbath. The board favors creating a voucher system that would allow Saturday Sabbath-observers to receive the discounts from Saturday-only sales on the following Monday.

“It would be a fair approach, especially since some of the Saturday-only sales are not really Saturday-only,” he said. “They’re weekend sales but because there’s no Sunday [shopping, they are Saturday only].”

The governor faces a June 30 deadline to complete the 2011 budget. McNerney and other county Democrats have been organizing press conferences and other protests, and, according to McNerney, they have attracted scores of supporters through the Internet.

Repealing the blue laws does have the support of business-owners, Drewniak said, but Christie is aware of “some public opposition” to lifting the restrictions and he will work with legislators to determine if repealing them is the best move.

The governor is “also looking for other ideas on replacing that $65 million,” Drewniak said. “We don’t want to backtrack from balancing a budget.”

 
 

Beth Am seeks to sell building, merge with other shul

You can find a lot on the Teaneckshuls e-mail list: appliances, doctors, even somebody to bring packages to Israel. Earlier this week, readers learned that Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Am is for sale.

The Reform synagogue has initiated a plan to merge with one of the four surrounding Reform synagogues — Teaneck’s Temple Emeth, Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, or Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia — although Beth Am leaders have not yet begun discussions as to which one.

“The congregation is grappling with its future and it’s trying to decide how to proceed,” said Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld. “It’s a self-examination based on demographics, based on community vitality.”

Barry Dounn, Beth Am’s treasurer, said the synagogue would like to complete a merger within a year. Because of the lagging real estate market, synagogue leaders decided to put the building on the market now, rather than wait until a deal is completed.

“We’re expecting it will take a while” to sell the building, he said.

A group of Teaneck residents created Beth Am in 1964 and moved into its Claremont Avenue building the following year. During the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Beth Am had a membership of 140 to 160 families. Now the shul has 40 member-families. The board decided in late 2008 to begin working on a merger, although, Dounn said, putting the building on the market is the first active step it has taken.

“We’ve got a long and valued history,” he said. “It’s something of a difficult decision we’re going through. We need to be realistic and realize that we’ve gotten too small to survive and operate the way we have been.”

In 2008, Union for Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie said that cash-strapped Reform synagogues could merge with financially struggling Conservative synagogues. Beth Am’s leadership, however, would like to merge with another Reform synagogue, said Dounne.

Rosenfeld, who has been with Beth Am for 13 years, said that much of the Teaneck Jewish community has become more traditional, and two Reform synagogues are no longer sustainable.

“People are beginning to mourn what will be lost, but at the same time people are looking toward, hopefully, the creation of a stronger synagogue,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the end of an era but the beginning of new possibilities.”

Ed Malberg, president of the Union for Reform Judaism’s New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Council, has seen a number of Bergen County congregations from various streams seeking out mergers in recent years. The Reform population in the county is not as numerous as it was 30 years ago, he said, but in other parts of the state — such as Morris, Somerset, and Mercer counties — Jews are moving into areas where they had not previously clustered.

“It’s the kind of thing we saw much more frequently in Bergen and Essex 20 to 30 years ago,” he said.

The Reform movement remains strong, he said. He pointed to the movement’s National Federation of Temple Youth and camps, which he said have shown strong numbers last year and will likely top that this year.

Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn merged with Temple Sholom in River Edge last year to become Temple Avodat Shalom. Rabbi Jonathan Woll, Avoda’s religious leader, did not join the merged congregation in River Edge. Dounn said no decision has been made as to whether Rosenfeld or Cantor Susan Cohen DeStefano would continue in their roles after a merger.

 
 

N.J. prosecutors visit Israel,  inaugurate exchange program

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Bergen County assistant prosecutors in a Nazareth courtroom are, from left, Catherine Fantuzzi, Vered Adoni, Tom Kearney, and Ron McCormick. Ofer Lichtig

Four Bergen County assistant prosecutors recently returned from a 10-day crash course on criminal justice in Israel. To their surprise, they found major differences between the legal procedures of the two democracies.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said he had been interested for some time in having his staff of 60 lawyers “learn how the administration of justice is accomplished in foreign countries, particularly in those jurisdictions where social settings would dictate a heightened awareness of the rights of both the victims and the accused.”

Last September, Molinelli and Assistant Prosecutor Vered Adoni attended a breakfast session summing up the latest round in the UJA of Northern New Jersey’s Partnership 2000 professional exchange program for emergency services personnel from Bergen County and the federation’s Israeli partner city of Nahariya. According to Partnership 2000 Coordinator Machla Shaffer, the program allows law-enforcement personnel to learn how each country deals with specific threats such as terrorism.

Impressed by this information exchange, Molinelli asked Haifa native Adoni to coordinate a similar program for assistant prosecutors. With Shaffer’s assistance, Adoni drew up an itinerary touching on academic, judicial, and legislative perspectives on Israel’s criminal justice system “from the moment a crime is committed to when an appeal takes place,” as Adoni put it. She served as the group’s translator when necessary.

Adoni had emigrated from Israel with her family at 15, returning to fulfill her military service before graduating from Montclair State University and Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She therefore had just as much to learn as did her colleagues Catherine Fantuzzi, Thomas Kearney, and Ron McCormick.

By the end of the April 29-May 8 trip, they had accumulated “pages upon pages of information” to share with the other assistant prosecutors. “I’m sure they will be fascinated by the differences between the two legal systems. Sometimes you think your system is the only one that works,” Adoni said. Later this year, she hopes to host the first group of Israeli prosecutors in Hackensack.

One of their first stops was the northern mixed Arab-Jewish city of Nazareth, where Deputy Prosecutor Shalva Levine and her staff provided a primer on Israeli criminal law. The visitors discovered that Israeli prosecutors wield considerable power.

“In the United States, prosecutors cannot make a decision to indict; that decision is subject to a grand jury to whom we present the evidence,” said Adoni. “In Israel, indictment is the sole decision of the prosecutor.”

Indeed, the very idea of trial by jury is unknown in Israel, where judges are both fact-finders and finders of law.

Tel Aviv District Court President Devorah Berliner and several of her judges expressed skeptical curiosity about the jury system to Adoni’s group.

“They did not see how people can decide on the fate of the accused if they are not legally trained. They had a hard time understanding how we can conduct a trial in front of 12 people from different backgrounds. And we have a hard time understanding how a judge has so much power in deciding the fate of the accused,” said Adoni. “We each concluded that it’s not likely either system will ever change.”

Another critical procedural difference is that Israeli prosecutors are permitted to argue that a defendant’s silence is indicative of guilt.

“One of the fundamental rights in the United States is the right to remain silent, and if God forbid a prosecutor comments on a defendant’s silence, it results in a mistrial,” said Adoni. “So this was a shocker for us.”

They were equally surprised to learn that Israeli law provides no minimum sentencing guidelines. “Israeli judges can impose any jail time they want as long as they don’t go past the maximum,” Adoni said. David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, told the Bergen visitors that he is looking into imposing minimum sentencing guidelines, but faces opposition from judges and defense attorneys.

That point was reinforced during a meeting with public defenders, where the Bergen prosecutors also learned that even wealthy Israelis can qualify for free legal representation if they meet certain criteria. In the United States, indigence is the sole qualifying factor.

Another difference is that whereas the U.S. Supreme Court annually chooses a small fraction of cases to hear, the Israeli Supreme Court is required to consider every one of the thousands of cases brought before it — leading to a huge caseload and corresponding backlog. This situation makes for “a very busy appellate role” for state’s attorneys, said Adoni.

Turning to law enforcement, Hebrew University Prof. Badi Hasisi gave the prosecutors an overview of the relationship between different groups of Israelis and the police.

Hasisi revealed data showing that Jewish attitudes toward police in Judea and Samaria deteriorated greatly after the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and a subsequent violent eviction of settlers in Amona, while Arab-Israeli attitudes toward police had soured during the intifada just a few years before.

Hasisi also shared his research suggesting that fighting terror detracts from the police’s ability to address common crime in Jewish areas, while in Arab areas extra precautions such as roadblocks actually enhance police effectiveness. “This tells us something about moving resources to deal with terror’s byproducts,” said Hasisi, who recently published these findings in a British law-enforcement journal.

In Nazareth, Levine briefed the group on the illegal drug trade along the Lebanon-Israel border and brought them to one of the smuggling hot spots. She also took them to a Tiberias prison, where Adoni was impressed with the emphasis on rehabilitation and education. “It was very apparent that they attempt to return the defendant to society in the best way possible,” she said. “This is a goal we share in the United States.”

 
 

Kosher restaurants put ethical standards on the menu

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Kosher diners are starting to think about what goes on behind the counters where they eat, according to the Orthodox ethics organization Uri L’Tzedek. Three Bergen County restaurants have thus far signed up for the organization’s year-old ethical kashrut seal and a fourth will be announced later this month.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, then a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, N.Y., founded Uri L’Tzedek in 2007. The organization unveiled the Tav HaYosher — the ethical seal — last year to reward businesses that recognize what its Website refers to as “The right to fair pay. The right to fair time. The right to a safe work environment.”

So far, 39 restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have signed up.

“It’s the next wave of 21st-century Jewish activism,” Yanklowitz said. “The simple act of a consumer choosing where to buy a sandwich is a matter of Jewish ethics. The act is so easy and the effect is so meaningful.”

Locally, Teaneck’s Noah’s Ark and Shelly’s Café and the frozen yogurt retailer 16 Handles at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus have signed up for the certification. A third Teaneck restaurant is expected to be announced next week, Yanklowitz said, adding he could not disclose any further details of its identity.

In addition to the businesses that have received its certification, Yanklowitz said Uri L’Tzedek has received commitments from synagogues, federations, schools, and other organizations and individuals to patronize only restaurants that have the seal. The recognition also sends a message to the non-Jewish community that watched the Agriprocessors scandal unfold in the media, he said.

“Many consumers have become disillusioned by the ethics of the kosher community,” Yanklowitz said. “By upholding the name yashrut, ethics, it expands the kosher clientele.”

When a restaurant signs up, a Tav Yosher compliance officer — one of some 60 volunteers — reviews the business’s payroll and other records and speaks privately with the employees. These inspectors are trained to review business ledgers and fluent in other languages to better communicate with non-English-speaking workers. The inspectors then return every two to three months to check the books and interview employees. The certification is free to businesses.

The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which oversees the kosher supervision of most of the area’s kosher restaurants, would allow restaurants to make their own decisions regarding the seal, said its president, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron. Rothwachs declined further comment until he could learn more about the certification.

Calls to the manager of the 16 Handles Paramus branch, which received the Tav HaYosher last week, were not returned. The 16 Handles in Manhattan also carries the certification.

Noam Sokolow, owner of Noah’s Ark and Shelly’s, told this newspaper that the community was outraged by ethical violations uncovered in recent years and wanted reassurance about local establishments.

“We’ve always felt we want our restaurants to be on a level where everyone feels comfortable,” he said. “It was an opportunity for us to have an additional agency supervising an aspect we feel is important.”

Neither of his Teaneck restaurants nor his Manhattan Noah’s Ark restaurant, which also carries the certification, had to make any changes before Uri L’Tzedek awarded the Tav Yosher, he said. After the certificate appeared in his stores’ windows, however, customers began thanking the management, he added.

“They want to see people here locally are following the rules,” he said.

The Jewish community as a whole reacted very responsibly following the Agri fallout and has overcome the challenges it presented, he said.

“As long as we can move forward and do something constructive with the information that we have, we become better people,” Sokolow said. “It’s an evolution.”

 
 

Learning curve

Community confronts day-school tuition crisis

Students have closed their books for summer but schools and parents alike are working to make the grade in the next stage of the day-school tuition crisis saga.

Raising one child can cost a middle-income family $19,380 to $23,180 a year, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And if that family is dedicated to a day-school education, which can cost anywhere between $8,000 and $60,000 a year, then it’s time to start getting creative. According to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, 4,822 students attended kindergarten through 12th grade in one of Bergen County’s 13 yeshiva day schools during the 2009-10 school year.

The country’s economic downturn pushed the tuition crisis out of the shadows of griping around the Shabbat table and into a very bright spotlight. Beginning with an early 2009 educators conference at the Orthodox Union in New York, teachers, administrators, and parents heeded the call to action to ease what many described as an increasing burden on day-school families.

Throughout the past year, several key players emerged, each with ideas on how to solve the problem. Indeed, the community saw a number of initiatives put forward; some gained momentum while others fizzled.

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NNJKIDS

“The community’s voting with its feet and saying the model of day-school education is not broken,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, rabbinic adviser to Jewish Education for Generations, a non-profit group created last year to explore new funding options. “It’s the model of funding that’s broken.” (See page 16.)

JEFG’s main project has been Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools, or NNJKIDS, a fund-raising initiative meant to shift the burden of tuition off of the parents and make it a communal priority. Formed in May 2009, NNJKIDS handed out $300,000 to eight area elementary schools throughout the course of the past school year. Organizers declared May NNJKIDS Month, a fund-raising push in the community that netted about a quarter of a million dollars.

“There was a tremendous increase and uptake in the amount of awareness around NNJKIDS,” said Sam Moed, chair of JEFG.

More than 60 businesses participated in the month-long program. Business-owners asked customers to contribute to NNJKIDS at checkout, and day-school children collected pledges for a learn-a-thon during Shavuot. One donor had promised a matching grant of up to $100,000 and NNJKIDS organizers reported that the full match would be collected.

“If anyone would have predicted when we began that we would be this far along, I would not have believed it,” Goldin said. “To be able to get all the schools to sit down and cooperate to the level that they have and get the communal support from various institutions and garner the support on the grassroots level is very encouraging.”

JEFG leaders said their donations mitigated tuition by $200 per student.

“NNJKIDS was a strong contributor to our ability to moderate the increase in tuition,” said Rabbi Yehuda Rosenbaum, president of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. “The funds from NNJKIDS were considered after all other economic considerations and had a real impact on lowering tuition increases for next year.”

JEFG isn’t resting on its laurels, however.

“We’ve got to continue to work on this and not in any way take our focus off different funding models and different approaches to all models of day schools,” Moed said.

United Jewish Communities of Metrowest in northwestern New Jersey has successfully created a community mega-fund. The $50 million campaign began with $13 million in contributions from 11 families in 2007 and sparked an idea within JEFG to replicate the endowment fund here.

David Moss, assistant executive vice president for endowment at UJA-NNJ, who has been working with JEFG on the mega-fund, said the idea is still being explored. The hope, according to Moss, is that such a fund would contribute not only to North Jersey’s day schools, but to congregational Hebrew schools as well.

“A lot of details have yet to be determined,” he said. “We’ve been, as a Jewish community and a federation in particular, particularly pleased with the efforts that JEFG is undertaking. When we’re ready to move forward with the mega-fund for Jewish education, it’s going to make the project that much more manageable.”

While he is a firm believer in day schools, Goldin said expanding the mega fund to include congregational Hebrew schools is a demonstration of JEFG’s commitment to educate every Jewish child.

“None of us is on an island,” he said.

Indeed, NNJKIDS has pulled together representatives of the area’s Orthodox and Conservative day schools and earned the support of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which represents the area’s Orthodox rabbis, and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, which represents the area’s Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis. Ruth Gafni, head of school at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, told The Jewish Standard during NNJKIDS Month that the organization has created a sense of community.

“The message is you’re not in it alone,” she said.

The government — navigating the separation of church and state

More than 170,000 students in New Jersey attend some 1,200 non-public schools, according to the Orthodox advocacy group Agudath Israel of New Jersey. Of those, about 80 percent attend religious schools. The government provides $137 in aid per private-school student — $72 for nursing services and $65 for textbooks. A handful of groups is exploring options to expand that funding within the confines of the separation between church and state.

Schools that will receive part of a $221,367 allocation from the UJA Federation of Northern N.J. during the 2010-11 school year:

• Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School

• Ben Porat Yosef

• The Frisch School

• Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey

• Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls

• The Moriah School

• Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

• Solomon Schechter Day School
of Bergen County

• Torah Academy of Bergen County

• Yavneh Academy

• Yeshiva Ohr Yosef

• Yeshiva Noam

• Sinai Schools

In one of his final acts in office in December, Gov. Jon Corzine created the Non-Public Education Funding Commission to investigate how the state can aid non-public schools. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and George Corwell, director of education of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, co-chaired the commission, which turned in its report to Gov. Chris Christie last month. The 23-member commission also included the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, and the state treasurer and attorney general, charged with monitoring the church-state barrier. As of earlier this week, the commission’s findings had not yet been made public. Schaer declined comment until Christie’s office releases the report.

“Gov. Christie has received the commission’s report and we are currently reviewing its findings,” said Sean L. Conner, a Christie spokesman. “We are working to ensure every child in New Jersey has access to a quality education, no matter their zip code or family’s socioeconomic status.”

Howie Beigelman, deputy director of the OU’s Institute of Public Affairs, testified before the New Jersey Senate’s Committee on Economic Development in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bipartisan bill that would create scholarships to be funded by corporate donors and provide tax credits for those corporations. Similar programs have already been instituted in Pennsylvania and Florida, while the Maryland Senate recently passed a similar bill.

“That will be a great step forward for all of us,” Beigelman told the Standard. “Lower and moderate-income kids can get a scholarship to go to a better school of their choice.”

The IPA is focusing its efforts on the OSA and has all but abandoned the pursuit of school vouchers. Vouchers, according to Beigelman, are “a minefield. While we certainly think legally there are ways to draft it that are appropriate, we think tax credits are easier and in other states help public and non-public schools. We’re happy to help everyone at the same time.”

Josh Pruzansky, director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey and chair of the New Jersey State Non-Public School Advisory Committee, praised Christie’s stance toward school choice.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to have a governor like Gov. Chris Christie who understands the importance of having a child educated in a place where their parents decide is the best place to be educated,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for our community to start reaping increased funding for our students.”

Christie has drawn criticism across the state for slashing public school funding. More than half of the proposed school budgets across the state were voted down during April’s contentious school board elections. The elections were particularly contentious in Teaneck because of a slate of candidates for school board who didn’t have children in the public schools. This led to some accusations that some in the Orthodox community were willing to sacrifice the public schools to lower property taxes. This is not the case, Beigelman said.

“We are pro-public school,” Beigelman said. “We also want and need our folks — and everyone who’s in a bad school — to have options.”

The local community is beginning to enter the political arena as well. Jerry Gontownik, vice president of the Englewood-based pro-Israel NORPAC, earlier this year founded EDPAC, dedicated to promoting day-school funding in Trenton.

“We are a PAC that is limited to the state of New Jersey,” Gontownik said, “and focused on encouraging our state elected officials to support programs and funding that would assist families who want to send their children to non-public schools.”

He said one of the areas his group would push is to increase state funding for special education in parochial schools. Tuition at Sinai Schools — which is devoted to special education and has campuses at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, Torah Academy of Bergen County, and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, both in Teaneck — charges base costs of more than $40,000 for in-state students and more than $50,000 for out-of-state pupils.

“Some people choose for religious reasons to send their children to parochial schools,” he said. “But I don’t think that choice should cut off completely the right of those parents to receive some funding toward the cost of education for their children.”

Like other advocacy groups, EDPAC is waiting for the governor to release the non-public schools report.

“I hope that if and when there is legislation that would assist the community in paying for Jewish education, that the community will appreciate the potential for such legislation and will assist financially in bringing such legislation to fruition.”

The OU

The Orthodox Union first brought the issue to the public’s attention at a conference for educators last year. OU leaders promised action to stem the increasingly prohibitive tuition, and the organization has made some progress, said Cary Friedman, associate director of day-school and educational services at the OU.

Approximately 15 schools throughout the tri-state area have signed on to a joint health insurance program the OU is coordinating. The OU, Friedman said, has created a professional employer organization, Advantec, so that all staff of the schools in the plan become employees of the new, larger organization. That organization then negotiates lower insurance rates for all the employees spread throughout the different schools.

“The whole topic of health care is just a crushing burden for the schools,” Friedman said. “Even though we’re offering good rates, their concerns are if this is going to continue into the future.”

The Internet may provide another source of relief for day schools. Some states have online charter schools, which — if used for secular components of day schools — could represent cost savings of up to 30 percent, Friedman said. This could also be a way around the church-state issue for funding of secular education.

“That online participation a kid can do in his basement, in a public library, or in a yeshiva classroom next to 19 other kids also signed up for the charter classroom,” he said.

New York and New Jersey currently do not permit online charter schools.

The Chabad factor

Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly has run a preschool for 13 years, but each year it has faced a dilemma of continuing education, said executive director Rabbi Mordechai Shain.

In recent years, Shain has noticed a trend among parents to put their children into public school after they finish at Chabad. Their argument, he said, is the high quality of Tenafly schools and the cost: Free.

“That’s our challenge,” Shain said. “How do you balance telling parents that they can have an academic education at no charge and telling them here we’re going to charge you thousands?”

In response, Chabad opened a kindergarten last year with 11 children. In November, registration for the 2010-11 year had reached 40 students. In response to the growth, Chabad created a first-grade class, which will begin in September with a class of 10 at a cost of $9,700 per student for first grade, and $9,400 for kindergarten. Both classes require a $770 registration fee as well.

Elliot Prager, principal of The Moriah School in Englewood, the closest day school to Tenafly Chabad, said he does not expect the new school to affect Moriah.

Chabad’s school, Shain said, is not meant to detract from any of the existing day schools. He estimated that about half the enrollment of the kindergarten and 60 percent of the first-grade class comes from Tenafly or surrounding areas that don’t have large Orthodox populations or large percentages of students already in day school.

“To reach people here, in this community, there’s no other way if we don’t open our own [school],” Shain said.

The Staten Island option

One of the ideas floated around last year was to create a low-cost day-school that offered basic educational services without many of the perks — advanced computers, smartboards, extra-curricular activities — now common in day schools. This idea never took off, but it caught the attention of the Jewish Foundation School in Staten Island, which charges local students an annual tuition of $8,500.

Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools distributed more than $300,000 to area elementary schools during its first year. The following schools receive quarterly allocations from the organization:

• Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey

• The Moriah School

• Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey

• Sinai Schools

• Solomon Schechter Day School \of Bergen County

• Yavneh Academy

• Yeshivat Noam

JFS extended that tuition rate — which includes $2,000 for transportation — to Bergen County families. Uri and Devra Gutfreund of Bergenfield sent their three children — ages 6, 9, and 11 — to JFS this year and said they were very happy with the less expensive option.

“We were lucky to have found JFS,” Uri Gutfreund said. “One year after the decision, we are so glad that we made the move and we hope other parents investigate the option for their children.”

The school held two parlor meetings in the area last year and another two in recent months. One additional family has expressed interest in the school for the 2010-11 school year. JFS principal Rabbi Richard Erlich said he has been disappointed with the response so far from Bergen County, but he understands parents’ fears.

“This is a very big jump for a lot of people,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to decide to remove your children from the local institution and send them 45 minutes away to another state.”

The big stumbling blocks for parents, Gutfreund said, are the commute and social life of the child.

“The social issue is a big mental block,” he said. “It’s going back to the old days when you had shul friends and school friends and neighborhood friends.”

JFS will continue to offer the $8,500 tuition to North Jersey families, Erlich said. About half of the school’s 400-odd students from Staten Island and Brooklyn receive some form of scholarship, but none of those funds is available for New Jersey families. At a few thousand dollars less than the local schools, however, Erlich said New Jersey families are already receiving quite a bargain.

“I’m still surprised,” Erlich said. “Clearly the recession is as entrenched this year as last year. People who didn’t have jobs last year still don’t have jobs this year. I’m trying to figure out why there isn’t a much greater response to our offer.”

How the schools are coping

Funds from NNJKIDS mitigated tuition increases across the board by about $200 per child, according to JEFG and school officials. It’s a start, but many schools still had to raise their rates and find other ways to cut costs.

Bat Torah – The Alisa M. Flatow Yeshiva High School in Paramus is raising its tuition for the coming year to $10,000, an increase of $1,000 from this year’s rate. The school relies on its efficiency and goodwill of its parents to keep its prices low, said principal Miriam Bak.

One of the areas in which the school saves is by not paying teacher benefits. Most of the staff of almost 30 teachers is part time, though they are well-trained specialists and the school goes out of its way to accommodate schedules, Bak said.

At Ben Porat Yosef, which shares the old Frisch building with Bat Torah, tuition for pre-K rose $400 to $13,600, while tuition for first through fifth grades rose $400 to $14,200. The nursery school lowered its tuition by $1,300 to $7,900 and the toddler class lowered its tuition by $800 to $6,900.

The school has 215 students enrolled for next year, an approximately 40 percent increase from this past year, said Yehuda Kohn, vice president of the school’s board. Next year will also mark the school’s first fifth-grade class.

“Ben Porat Yosef is in a unique position in that we are in a vigorous growth phase,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Standard. “As a result, not only have we not had to cut any staff, but our current fixed costs are now becoming more cost-effective.”

The school held a scholarship walkathon recently that raised more than $60,000. BPY is also working with Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership to create new avenues for revenue without increasing tuition. In addition, the school is “actively pursuing” all cost-cutting ideas, Kohn continued.

“No line item on our budget is immune,” he wrote.

“We’re learning to do more with less. We’re going to have to take on that mantra,” said Joel Kirschner, executive director of Yavneh Academy in Paramus, who spoke with the Standard last month.

Yavneh raised its tuition for kindergarten to fifth grade to $13,300 and tuition for sixth through eighth grade to $13,975 — representing a $200 increase on both levels. The school’s allocation from UJA-NNJ has also decreased in recent years, Kirschner said. The federation gave it $105,000 for the 2005-06 year, while the allocation for 2009-10 was under $30,000.

The non-profit world has been one of the biggest victims of the economic downturn, but UJA-NNJ has increased its 2010-11 allocation to 13 schools to a total of $221,357 — an $8,520 increase from this past year.

“In a year when we kept slack most of our allocations, the day schools got a 4 percent increase,” said Alan Sweifach, the federation’s planning and allocations director. “It’s going to take a solution beyond the allocation. The allocation and the increase to Jewish education is an important message. At least it is a recognition and step in the right direction when the dollars are so limited.”

Tuition levels at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck will remain at the 2009-10 rates, largely thanks to a 10 percent increase in the student body. Salaries were frozen during the 2009-10 year, but teachers can expect to receive “modest” salary increases during the 2010-11 school year, administrator Ceil Olivestone wrote in an e-mail to the Standard. Olivestone praised what she called “efforts to keep a tight control on programs and expenses.”

“While we have not affected any curricular or extracurricular program or expense that would compromise the quality and essence of the chinuch/education that we provide,” she wrote, “the budget was thoroughly reviewed by the administration and lay leadership.”

Fund-raising among parents of current and former students, as well as within the community, provides 10 percent of the school’s budget, Olivestone wrote.

Basic tuition at The Frisch School in Paramus for 2010-11 will increase to $21,950 from $21,250, according to the school’s president, Martin Heistein. About 27 percent of the families of the school’s approximately 660 students this year received some form of scholarship.

The school has also avoided layoffs, Heistein said.

“We’ve reviewed all the remaining aspects of the budget and tried to toe the line where possible,” he said.

Moriah has increased tuition by 1.9 percent across the board, bringing the total for kindergarten to second grade up to $13,380; $13,635 for third through fifth grade; and $14,050 for sixth through eighth grade.

Salaries stayed level this year and will remain the same into next year, he continued. The school did lay off “several” mostly part-time employees, though Prager would not comment on the exact number.

“It’s certainly something we didn’t want to do but felt in order to be financially responsible we had to tighten the staffing somewhat,” he said.

The school has cut back costs on color printing, energy, and is spending on only “necessary purchases” of educational resources, Prager said.

“In the short run, our cost-saving steps, together with whatever help we’ve gotten from NNJKIDS, has at least at the present time, we feel, enabled us to successfully meet the economic challenges we’ve faced this year and into the coming year,” Prager said. “As to what the long-range picture will be only time will tell.”

RYNJ cut 10 jobs and kept salaries flat during the 2009-10 school year. Along with a reduction of positions, responsibilities, and pay, the school avoided a tuition increase from 2008-09 by cutting $500,000 in costs, said the school’s president.

The school projects an enrollment of 970 children in preschool through eighth grade next year, an increase of 35 students, and an average increase of $150, or 1.1 percent, per student per grade, according to Rosenbaum.

The increase breaks down to $255 for grades four through eight, $125 for grades one through three, and no increase for preschool. No other increases are planned, according to Rosenbaum.

The school is also looking to restructure teacher compensation and benefits, including giving tuition breaks for children of employees.

“These efforts are having a one-time impact on our economics but once we get over the initial bump, will position us well in the coming years to manage our costs,” Rosenbaum said.

Sinai also moved one of its elementary programs into RYNJ last year, which has helped defray the costs of the school’s expansion, Rosenbaum said.

“Sinai has been a great addition to our school, and we look forward to finding additional ways to collaborate to reduce costs and run fund-raising programs together,” he said.

RYNJ is one of four schools that saved a combined $24,000 through an electrical group-purchasing plan under UJA-NNJ. The nine-month-old program also includes Yavneh Academy in Paramus, Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, and Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland.

Frisch, Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, and Moriah School also recently signed up.

“In these turbulent economic times, we recognize the value of working together as a community to reduce costs wherever possible,” said Matt Holland, UJA-NNJ’s community purchasing manager.

To make the program work, the schools turn their electric bills over to UJA-NNJ, which then arranges for a single supplier, such as Con Edison or Suez, through Public Service Electricity & Gas. Supply costs can account for 78 percent of an electric bill.

“We get multiple bids from potential suppliers. We select the supplier that offers the best product, service, and price,” Holland said. “We’re looking at annual savings up to $45,000 per school on electricity costs alone.”

The program began as part of the Kehillah Partnership, a group of community organizations that works to save on expenses and resources. The Kehillah Cooperative is the cost-sharing arm of the Partnership and it has netted savings for numerous community organizations.

“We started with electricity, saving $350,000 to date, and look forward to working cooperatively with all Jewish non-profits in northern New Jersey,” Holland said. “Our success so far demonstrates the opportunity the Kehillah Cooperative offers schools, as well as agencies and synagogues.”

Looking forward

“Do I think we’re living through tough times? Absolutely,” said Frisch’s Heistein. “It’s a constant challenge.”

One vocal day-school critic has taken to the Internet to vent his views with a blog called The $200k Chump, which takes its name from the high salary required to afford tuition. The anonymous blogger, who declined a telephone or face-to-face interview, claims to be a parent paying full tuition at one of the county’s schools and frequently writes about the “legacy schools” — Frisch, Moriah, and other established day schools — and why efforts to lower tuition there will not succeed.

“Like many here in town, I am struggling to pay the high cost of yeshiva tuition and want to use this blog to explore some REAL solutions to the crisis,” the “Chump” wrote in the blog’s bio. “Some of my proposals may not be popular with many of the administrators, teachers, board members, and scholarship recipients at our local day schools but that is life and I don’t really care much. The system is broken and we need real change before it is too late.”

The blogger has lashed out against school officials, as well as NNJKIDS for raising money the writer claims is used to hire more administrators. The Chump has also written about other alternatives, including charter schools, JFS, and “the nuclear option” — enrolling students in public schools.

Ideas for charter schools — an Englewood man has been trying to create a Hebrew language charter for two years — and after-school Talmud Torah programs — the Jewish Center of Teaneck has flirted with the idea and is ready to go if enough families show interest, according to Rabbi Lawrence Zierler — are not new but have yet to gain steam. The community has a responsibility to continue exploring all options, said JEFG’s Goldin.

The OU’s Friedman warned against complacency, even if the national economic picture looks brighter.

“The economy seems to be in a little bit of a respite, but nothing has changed,” he said. “If we delude ourselves and pretend it’s going away, it’s not going to go away.”

 
 
 
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