Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Did This Begin?

There has been a lot of conversation around the J-Blogosphere and in the regular communities about the financial trouble our yeshivas are in. One particular point keeps coming up: schools are not paying teachers on time, some of them months in arrears. For those who think this is something new, read on.

I have taught in a number of yeshivas beginning when I was still a college student, way back when. In some I was a full time teacher; in others I was a long term sub or a daily sub. In all cases (with one exception) these were paid positions. That's 43 years of teaching. I looked back on those years to see if I could remember when it came about that some yeshivas started not paying their teachers on time or paying them at all.

My first job was the BY of Williamsburg. I was still new to NY and it never would have occured to me to even ask if the salary they were offering me for a long term sub job was going to get paid. There were no rumors around that they didn't pay. And yes, they paid, and on time.

After that, in no particular order, I was a long term sub at Shulamis elementary school, a long term sub at Flatbush Yeshiva elementary school, subbed in Flatbush High School, a long term sub at Achi Ezer, taught at JFS in SI, subbed at RJJ boys school in SI and taught at Kingsway Jewish Center preschool. There was not one single instance at any of these schools where I did not get paid on time and the full amount due. Nor, in a general way, were there rumors going around about non-paying yeshivas.

Then I went into high school teaching. In 1986 I interviewed for a job at YOB High School for Girls. During the interview the Principal informed me that YOB paid on time and never missed a paycheck. Huh? I couldn't understand why she would be telling me this. I mean, didn't all schools pay their teachers and pay on time? Apparently not. Once employed at YOB, other teachers on staff, who were also teaching at other schools to make more money, told stories of paychecks that were delayed a few weeks or that came in short. It didn't happen all the time and at every school, but it did happen often enough that it was becoming noticed and spoken about by teachers. With no exceptions at that time, the schools which were not paying on time were the schools more to the right and in Brooklyn. They were the schools whose students came from larger families than was the norm in the schools more central or to the left. While there were some parents in these schools who were college educated and in higher paying positions, far more of the parents were not college grads and were not professionals. Many of the parents were in chinuch, as morot or as rebbes, and those were not well-paying positions back then in any way, shape or form.

I taught at YOB until 1999. Not once did we ever miss a paycheck in all that time. (Perhaps not so strangely, the big donators pool [and members of the School Board]for YOB were not, for the most part, YOB-type people but were more modern and successful in business, with lots of money to donate.) Unfortunately, the stories were coming thicker about other schools where delayed checks were becoming the norm.

Since 1999 there have been many schools named among the group that have skipped paychecks or delayed them. It's all too commonplace to hear of schools which are months behind in paying staff. And they aren't all RW schools any more. Some of the more modern schools are having trouble making salary payments as well.

What's my purpose in having told you all of this? Far too many people are blaming the delayed payments to teachers on the general financial mess the country is in. Far too many are acting as if this is a new thing. Plenty of people who believe that it will be business as usual for yeshivas in just a year or so, when the financial picture gets rosy again. A whole lot of people, from our leadership on down, believe this is all an anomaly. They don't believe that the administrative and financing model for yeshivas needs anything more than a "little" infusion of cash until things are looking up again. Even those who are railing and ranting believe that the financial crash for yeshivas is of a fairly recent advent. They blame the higher numbers of students looking for tuition reductions now as putting the schools out of balance. What these people can't see or won't see is that the yeshiva system was already out of balance financially way back before I started out at YOB. Recent financial events have only made it more obvious that the financial structure of yeshivas isn't a solid one--but then, it seems that it never was.

It's not money that is needed now (okay, yes some money is needed) but management changes. The model we have got broken a long time ago. It's been limping along and somehow we didn't seem to notice or care. Well, the model has stopped limping and simply can't move any longer. First, we need major surgery, and then we need intense physical therapy. And yes, we need to stop going to folk healers and just plain quacks for the refuah we need. There are skilled and experienced practitioner specialists out there who need to take over the patient's care.


Faygie said...

I was teaching in one of those RW girls yeshivas in the early 80s when one month we didn't get a paycheck. We teachers were in real shock. Somehow (they never told us how) they got us checks one week later. Everyone who found out about this was furious--how can a school not pay its teachers! halacha demands that they get paid.

Little by little other stories about other yeshivas who were delaying paychecks came out.

So yes you are right that this is not something new, except maybe that there are so many schools who are now doing this. So the question is why no one back then worried that the way of doing business was going to cause even bigger problems down the road.

Anonymous said...

I remember when my cousin taught in the Beth Jacob school in Philadelphia (yes, Beth Jacob, not Bais Yaakov)in the late 70's & early 80's and the teachers were asked to teach for the love of Torah instead of their pay checks. Then some weeks the teachers would get pay checks, but only those who got to the bank first were able to cash them, because the school did not have funds in its account to cover the checks it issued.
Shortly after the school closed and its furnishings disappeared and the seforim and school records were left in the building to rot.

JS said...

Very sad. A list of what schools are and aren't paying, what the current delays are, whether checks are bouncing, etc. Would be very helpful.

I wonder if anyone could put together such a list based on info from teachers and administrators submitting the info anonymously.