Monday, August 22, 2011

From a Different Perspective

While waiting on line in a store I was privy to a conversation that was going on among the three people in front of me. All three were Catholics and were discussing the closure of three long-existing schools, two here on Staten Island and one in Brooklyn. Two were all girls high schools and one was an all boys high school.

Coming on the heels of news that at least two yeshivot were not going to be opening their doors in September (reported by Orthonomics and others), is there any relationship that can be seen between what I overheard in the market and what is happening with the yeshivas? Yes, there is a relationship.

First, it should be noted that Catholic schools fall into districts: all schools within a particular diocese are under the supervision of that diocese. We Jews do not have this type of districting, where all schools in a particular geographic area are under one supervisory/administration board. Second, the diocese sets general policy for all schools within its boundaries. Third, the diocese can grant monies within its coffers to schools across its area. Fourth, like yeshivas, Catholic schools are not free and charge tuition. This tuition has been going up steadily over the years, and has risen steeply over the last few years. (Note: among the reasons given for this steep rise in tuition were teachers are getting paid higher salaries than in older times, there are more specialists in the system--psychological and counseling and special ed--there are more extra curricular activities, which have gone up in basic cost, and there is more technology necessary to put into place, such as multiple computers.)

In addition, schools in some areas charge far less than some schools in other areas of the diocese, generally following along the lines of whether a particular neighborhood falls into the mostly low earners group, middle earners group or high earners group. The diocese makes up any financial shortfall in areas where the parents cannot pay the full load of tuition.

Now to the comparison of the Catholic/Jewish schools. Both types of school systems have schools known to be stellar as regards academics (secular academics meant here)--think Flatbush Yeshiva, the Ramaz School and a few of the Central/North Jersey schools. Both of these types of schools are pricey and getting pricier. These schools are looking for the best and the brightest, and if those targeted students can't afford the steep tuition, the diocese foots the bill for their reduced or missing tuition. For the yeshiva schools of this type, the schools fund raise to make up any missing monies and/or they raise tuition cost for the parents who can pay it to cover the shortfall.

Like the Catholic schools, yeshivas also fall into geographic or community areas which can be described as poor, middle class or wealthy. Unlike the Catholic schools, yeshivas don't have a diocese to pick up the financial slack if parents in a particular school area cannot pay sufficient tuition to cover the costs of the school.

And yet, even with the diocese available to pick up the financial pieces, 3 schools are closing. Why? One answer given by those standing in line was "They don't print money in the basement you know." Another point that was brought up was that the Catholic community has many types of services available to its members, from feeding the poor to caring for the elderly, and it has reached a point where expenses outstrip readily available cash to pay for those expenses.

And then came the kicker. One woman, who had sent all of her kids to Catholic school and has her grandchildren in those Catholic schools, said that it looked like it was time to rethink the whole idea of separate schooling. And she said the magic words--"After all, these schools are really private schools and who says we can really afford to push private school for everyone when we already pay for the public schools with our tax dollars? It's a different world today and what worked yesterday doesn't look like it's going to work tomorrow."

Yes, there are many points of comparison between the Catholic school system and the yeshiva system. Yes, they are both private education systems whose expenses are outrunning the funds available to pay for those expenses. They do have many similarities. There are also differences. Our yeshiva system is not a system with a central authority over all schools and the ability to shift funds as needed from one school to another. And yes, even with that type of financial ability, it's not possible to keep all the schools open.

Maybe it's about time that we stop trying to fix a system that is clearly broken and can't sustain itself financially and start looking for a replacement system. Maybe we need to be brutally honest and admit "Ma sheh hoyah, hoyah." And perhaps the first step would be to admit that we can't print money in the basement, and there simply is not enough money in Klal to keep the educational system as presently structured afloat, never mind attempt to provide other needed services as well. There is only X amount of money in Klal, and you can't spend X+3 gazillion dollars. That's reality, and we need to admit that.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

First in California...where next?

Thanks to the Professor at Life on a Cotton Ball for reaffirming my faith in our legislative systems--NOT. I wake up every Sunday morning with the positive attitude that this week will be different: this week will be the week that the mistakes of the past will be recognized and steps taken to immediately establish changes that will be helpful for us. Yeah, just call me a cockeyed optimist. And no, this is not going to be that week either.

The legislators of the great state of California (irony intended), apparently having nothing better to do, voted to require all institutions providing hospitality--think hotels and motels--to use only fitted sheets on their beds. Oh yes, and they specifically included that the state won't be paying any of the monies required to meet this new legislation--the hospitality industry will have to meet the expenses to be in compliance.

Frankly, many years ago the truly mentally deficient were sent to state-sponsored residential institutions. In modern times that was deemed as politically/socially/humanely incorrect. Instead, someone apparently came up with a different, "better" way to care for these people-- they are duly elected to state legislatures, where they get to play with others just like themselves, and create havoc for the rest of us.

You think not? Go to the link below. The Professor has the link to the actual legislation. Mind boggling doesn't even begin to cover it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Some Thoughts on Multi Generations

A recent posting by The Rebbetzin's Husband on Parenting from the Torah happened to hit home with me, particularly this summer. While the gist of the scenarios Rabbi T presents deal with the who and how of taking care of elderly parents, there is another aspect that I commented on and feel needs to be addressed.

We are b"h living longer and longer as the years progress. It is not at all unusual for there to be four generations all living at the same time. In fact, it is becoming more commonplace to see even five generations all living at the same time. Since this is the case, the issue of kibud av v'em (and how to care for parents who may need special help) is also growing more complex. In the 4-generation scenario you have three distinct sets of parents; in the 5-generation scenario you have four distinct sets of parents. Now let's complicate this just a bit more: let's assume that in each generation but the last all the children are married. This means that for each married couple there are two sets of parents to be considered: those of the husband and those of the wife.

Now start at the top of that 4-5 generation pyramid and number that generation as #1. Any parents in that #1 generation are indeed going to be older, and it is likely that health issues are being seen or independent living issues are being seen. It would seem to be logical that this generation's issues will be dealt with by their children, generation #2. However, generation #2 is not all that young and members of that generation are also seeing health issues crop up or strength issues crop up. They may not be 100% up to handling or dealing with the issues of their parents while facing issues of their own. That brings us to generation #3. In asking this generation to participate in or completely handle the issues facing their parents we may also be giving them the task of taking on the responsibility for their parents' parents at the same time. While this is happening generation #3 may still be involved in finishing raising their own children and marrying them off.

In cases where there are five generations living at the same time, it is quite possible to envision a scenario where generation #3 is getting on in age and not completely able to handle the responsibilities of caring for parents in generation #2 and generation #1. This would mean that generation #4 would have the responsibility for handling the issues that come up for generations #1, 2 and 3, all while raising their young children. And as I mentioned previously, this would not be for only one set of parents but for the parents of both the husbands and wives involved.

Now complicate this further--not all members of a family will necessarily be living in close proximity to each other. Members of the various generations could be living all over the US and/or all over the world. Even when family members might be in the same general geographic area, you could still be talking about their being quite spread out and with serious time/travel issues that will arise. It is not a mere hop, skip and a jump to travel from SI to Long Island, nor is it from NJ to the NYC environs, nor even from one area of NYC to another.

Let me also mention another issue that complicates the care-giving--work. What is commonplace today is to find couples where both the husband and the wife work at jobs outside the home. Given the economic realities today, those families where both the husband and wife work do so because they need the money. Generally speaking you won't find working members of generation #1, you will still find some working members of generation #2, but many are retired or getting there soon, you will find most of generation #3 working and, where there is a generation #5, you will find generation #4 working.

So, what does this mean apropos of kibud av v'em, and particularly as regards taking care of day to day matters for the older people of the generations present? Frankly, it means that we are going to have to stop philosophizing and start coming up with practical ways to deal with multiple generations all living at the same time. We don't have nearly enough programs, personnel, organizations, and facilities in place to help out with what is no longer a future problem but is here now, and getting larger. I've said it before, and it bears repeating now--tuition is not the only major item facing Klal. Yeshivas need to understand this fact, not only the parent body within a yeshiva.

There is going to be competition for the dollars of Klal, and yeshivas aren't going to be number one on the list for a whole lot of families. Frankly, if the choice comes down between paying X for a yeshiva education, to include all the frills and fancies, and making sure that our older folks are healthy, safe and well taken care of, yeshivas come dead last for me. I do not owe the yeshivas anything, but I surely owe my parents a lot, not least of which is making sure that what they need is provided for.

Not an easy problem to solve, and we'll never find any solutions until we admit that we do, indeed, have a problem.

Note: Just to give you an idea of some of the costs that could be involved in elder care, let me use an assisted living facility in Queens as an example--it is fairly typical of this type of facility around our geographic area. The cost to residents is $5000 per month, and if you can't pay it they throw you out. That figure does not include extra food you may buy for yourself, insurance, medications, doctor expenses, clothing, personal care items etc.; in short, you will easily need to add another $15-20 thousand per year, and quite possibly more. That is about $80K per year, per person, for the elderly in a residence catering to the needs of the elderly. Not precisely spare change.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Getting What You Pay For

Sure, there has been a lot of arguing online and elsewhere about summer sleepaway camps and what value they might have for both campers and parents. I'd like to look at the "worth" of camp through a different lens right now--the lens of the 9 days.

I'd imagine that parents have a picture in their mind of just what a camp is going to provide for the (sometimes exorbitant) money it may charge. Yes, there will be some Judaic learning going on. However, most parents will add to that sports activities of all kinds--free swim, instructional swim, softball, baseball, basketball, hockey, track, gymnastics and field activities etc.. In addition, I'd imagine that most parents are going to add to those sports activities what I'll call creative activities--all types and sorts of arts and crafts and musical activities (both song and dance). Then add in nature activities, camp trips to points of interest nearby, competitions, both intra-camp and inter-camp, including color war.

So, if kids are totally immersed in a frum environment for the summer, just what is it that the camp is offering during the 9 days for the money charged ? I've heard that camps still provide swimming--or at least some do--under the guise that it's only instructional swim (which I guess is not supposed to be seen as pleasurable). Reading the fine print on those sites listing what is forbidden to do during the 9 days, creative activities would appear on the forbidden list, so no arts and crafts. Certainly song and dance activities would be forbidden. Taking pleasurable trips would be forbidden. Those high-spirited intra and inter camp competitions would be forbidden. Most movies and films and live performances would be forbidden.

Okay, someone tell me what is left for the campers to do for the long days and nights they are in camp over the 9 days? For those campers only attending the second session of camp--the month of August--9 out of their 28 days in camp (approximately 1/3 of the time they are there) are not going to be "fun." If those camps are serving only milchigs, except for Shabbos, then some campers are going to be truly miserable for those 9 days--camp milchigs is heavy on the starch and light on the "real" fish or on fruits and vegetables. If the camp makes a siyum every day, then the campers are going to be learning early how to circumvent the requirements. If the camp holds that no laundry may be done during the 9 days, no fresh clothing may be put on, and no fresh linen may be put on the beds, you are going to have a whole lot of those kids wearing sticky, icky clothing and getting into beds that have been sitting in un-airconditioned bunks gathering dirt, mold, pollen and who knows what else. If the camp holds strictly to showering as a limited or non-existent activity during the 9 days, you are going to be having some truly uncomfortable campers, never mind what the smell will be like.

Then there is this--camps are not reknowned for their fully stocked libraries. Substituting reading for other activities will be highly limited, and will apply only to those campers who brought some reading material with them. I suppose that campers could find a tree to sit under and play games on their cellphones to pass the time.

In short, sleepaway camp and the 9 days seem to me to present a conflict: most of what a camp provides its campers could be seen as ossur during the 9 days. I'm past the time of sending children away to camp--anyone out there whose children are in such camps and who know firsthand what the camps do during the 9 days, please chime in. Given that $5000 for a whole summer as the camp charge has been documented as "pretty average" in many places and by many people, that would be about $100 a day for the summer camp experience. Are the camps providing sufficient services of a "camp type" to be worth that $100 a day during the 9 days?

And let me end off with this: if the camps are providing many of the activities which would fall into the pleasurable category, then why do we have this non-sensical divide--not okay in the city but okay at camp.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Courts on a Roll

I once did an entire posting on toilet paper, and admitted the irony of having gone to graduate school in English so that I could produce such a piece of writing. Apparently I'm not the only one with toilet paper being kept in mind. A case involving toilet paper is wending its way upwards in the US court system. Given all the weighty matters that should be occupying our minds, why are we clogging the drains of the judicial system with soggy wads like this one?