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.