As the head of an “out of town” Modern Orthodox Jewish day school (although many consider Boca Raton, Florida, to be only “sort of” out of town) very similar to so many in the NY/NJ area, I closely follow the trends, successes and challenges of these fine institutions. Our school, the Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, has learned so much from your local schools and this learning is bolstered by the fact that many of your administrators and teachers are my close, personal friends. So it is in the spirit of that partnership and ongoing collaboration that I would like to share about our recent accomplishment in the area of day-school affordability so that, perhaps, others can benefit.
It was at our annual school dinner this past January where we not only added the “Katz” name to our school in recognition of the long-time service and generosity of Daniel and Caroline Katz, but we announced that the full cost of tuition for grades K-8 would be dropping by $1,000 per child beginning with the 2017-18 school year, following four years without a tuition increase.
A strategic, multifaceted approach helped us achieve this milestone that should, ultimately, allow for more families to afford our Modern Orthodox education now and well into the future.
This would not have been possible without the following contributing factors:
Outstanding education is always the priority. We have developed a reputation for educational excellence in both Judaic and general studies that has brought new families to our school from throughout south Florida and from around the country. This provided a boost in enrollment well beyond the numbers we budgeted for, and this happened for several years in a row (our current numbers are above 500 students). Even with impressive increases in our numbers, we made sure to improve teacher/student ratios and added programs and services that directly benefited children. With discipline, we used the financial surplus to build up a significant reserve. Our program for students with special learning needs also helped boost enrollment by bringing in children from outside of our traditional catchment area.
Paid off the mortgage. Using some of the reserve we built up and with the help of a donor, we initiated a creative “burn the mortgage” campaign that incentivized parents to contribute, given the savings they would realize in the years to come. Getting rid of the payments on the $1.5 million mortgage allowed us to “give” that money back to our families by lowering tuition.
Improved overall business operations and adjusted financial aid policies. Through personnel enhancements in the business office and careful oversight by the school president and treasurer, we have kept expenses in check (below national averages), dramatically improved tuition collections (virtually eliminating bad debt) and adjusted financial aid policies that included tuition minimums for all families (barring extenuating circumstances). It is important to mention that our concern for keeping expenses as low as possible did not come on the backs of our devoted teachers and staff. They have received a raise every year and have even benefited from two separate “bonuses,” along with an increase in our pension contribution this past year that is still in effect for the current school year. We recognize that a great school cannot exist without great teachers and administrators who feel appreciated and supported.
Increased revenue streams outside of tuition. We have made good use of our 15-acre campus (with gym and fields) by opening our own, professional summer camp four years ago. Profits go directly toward scholarship assistance and some new families have enrolled in the school as a result of their camp experience. We rent part of our facility to a synagogue on the weekends and people rent our fields and gym for birthday parties and other events as do some of the local community organizations. We have professionalized our development department and have met or exceeded our ambitious fundraising goals without an increase in event-based fundraisers. Additionally, thanks to a tax credit scholarship program in the state of Florida, we are receiving significant funds for children from lower-income families. Not only does this make it possible for these children to attend our school, it alleviates some of the financial burden that has traditionally been borne by families paying full tuition.
The list of all that went into our recent success would be incomplete without acknowledging the incredible revealed blessings we have received from Hashem. We are so grateful and pray that these blessings continue.
Obviously, some of the above-mentioned initiatives are not replicable at other schools. Every institution and every community is unique when it comes to its own challenges and opportunities. But every school can and should recognize that by examining all aspects of their operation and highlighting areas of potential improvement in each one, a multi-year plan can be developed and meaningful results can be realized.
For more information, please contact Rabbi Englander at [email protected]
By Rabbi Adam Englander
Rabbi Adam Englander is Head of School at Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton.