Jul 7, 2009 — A first-of-its-kind national study conducted by the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University surveyed the presidents of Jewish day schools and found that a key to more affordable schools rests with improving board functioning in two critical areas: financial planning and fundraising.

Indeed, while communities across the country are rightfully galvanizing to confront the increasing cost of Jewish education at a time of diminished communal wealth, the survey suggests that individual day school boards can play a pivotal role in responding to these challenges.

Harry Bloom, director of planning and performance improvement for the Institute, and other Institute leaders discussed the study in full detail at a press event in New York on Monday, July 13. Watch a video of the discussion here.

The more than 60 day school presidents completing the “Survey of the Governance Practices of Jewish Day Schools” represented Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community day schools from across the country. Their responses revealed a number of key opportunities to reduce the growing affordability gaps:

• Only about one-third of presidents strongly agree that board members give their schools their top personal philanthropic gifts or that they generate financial support for school events.

• Only about one-quarter of presidents feel that board members are actively engaged in identifying and cultivating potential major donors for their institutions.

• Only about 24 percent of presidents strongly agree that their schools have a comprehensive long-range financial plan.

At the same time, presidents overwhelmingly say that fundraising/advocacy and strategic planning, the two areas in which their boards are underperforming, are the two areas that impact most on overall school performance and affordability.

“Too often we hear calls for cutting core educational components of schools, from teacher salaries to professional development,” said Dr. Scott J. Goldberg, director of the Institute. “While schools must find ways to cut spending, this survey suggests that we can help preserve the educational core of the school and maintain school quality by maximizing fundraising and strategic financial planning.”

Bloom, who designed and facilitated the study, sounded a note of optimism based on the results: “Yeshiva University, through our Institute, has been working in the trenches with communities around the country in support of communal fundraising, advocating for increased government funding and promoting inter-school collaboration. At the same time, we are also focusing on helping day school boards learn to increase their engagement in financial planning, fundraising and expense management. Collectively, these have the potential to add $100 million annually to support increased financial aid as well as reduce tuition.”

Echoing these sentiments, Michelle Friedman, board president of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, a school that has been working closely with the Institute, said that, “at a time when the economics of day school education have hit the crisis stage, it is incumbent upon the board members to serve as leaders both in planning as well as fundraising and their own personal giving.”

The study targeted board presidents of Jewish day schools affiliated with four school networks: Orthodox day schools that associate with YU; RAVSAK, which comprises community day schools; Solomon Schechter Day School Association, which is the umbrella for Conservative Jewish day schools; and PARDeS, the umbrella organization for Reform Jewish day schools. About one in four responded. (While Torah Umesorah did not formally disseminate the survey to its members, a number of responding Orthodox schools indicated their participation in this network). The participating schools are diverse in terms of grades offered, size, age, location and denominational affiliation.

The Institute is finalizing a second report that will explore the relationship between board practices and school demographics and operational performance factors.

“Day school education must remain a non-negotiable priority of the Jewish people,” said YU President Richard M. Joel. “When times are tough, we have always invested in our children and provided them with the foundation they need for a lifelong journey of Jewish living and learning. This survey reflects our continued commitment to ensuring that our community provides our children with a serious, uncompromising Jewish education that sensitively addresses the financial needs of parents.”

For more information on the study, and to receive a copy, contact Bruce Bobbins, 212-981-5190 or Matt Yaniv, 212-960-5488.