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(RNS) Orthodox Jewish officials have come up with a plan to rescue struggling religious day schools through shared cost-cutting strategies, while devising plans for a cheaper yeshiva model.
While the economic downturn has caused headaches for all private schools, given their dependence on tuition, donations and investment income, the 800 Jewish day schools in the U.S. have been especially hard hit, said Saul Zucker, director of the Department of Day School and Educational Services of the Orthodox Union.
Orthodox Jewish families typically have two or more children at a yeshiva at a time, he explained, and these schools often have to pay high salaries because of the long hours required for both secular and religious instruction. Also, in contrast to secular private schools, Jewish day schools are considered a mandatory expense for traditional families, he added.
“It’s the transmission of the heritage, of the law, of religious ideals — it’s not a luxury,” he said. “The idea of sending a child to public school and then supplementing it with a watered-down version of religious education is not really an option for 90 percent of the community.”
More than 100 school administrators from across the country have participated in the Orthodox Union’s meetings and conference calls to brainstorm strategies in recent months. The group’s new plan to help them cut costs involves combining health insurance coverage, switching to solar energy, and sharing a new grant writing firm to find new sources of income.
The proposal for a lower-cost school model, starting with an elementary school planned in Englewood, N.J. for the 2010-11 year, will aim for a $6,500 tuition fee, lower than the $15,000 average annual cost for a yeshiva education. The savings will come through having larger class sizes, limited extracurricular offerings and mandatory volunteer roles for parents, Zucker said.
“We’re living in very, very stressful times, and it’s gratifying to see the Jewish community coming together to do whatever we can do ensure the continuity of our sacred heritage,” Zucker said.
By Nicole Neroulias
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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