Pittsburgh’s three Jewish day schools continue to grapple with funding issues, although they are now in better financial shape overall than they were last year.
Private Jewish day schools nationwide face similar challenges, which include the high costs associated with offering a wide curriculum consisting of both general and Judaic studies and providing scholarships for a significant percentage of its students.
Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, Hillel Academy and Community Day School last year began to take advantage of a recent law that allows individuals to participate in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC), which permits business entities to direct tax dollars to private schools. The creation of a Special Purpose Entity by the three schools helped the total EITC revenue increase from about $3.4 million in 2015-2016 to $3.9 million in 2016-2017, according to Sally Stein, manager of corporate and government relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Those funds are divided between the schools.
Still, Stein is unsure how the EITC funding will play out for 2017-2018, which is dependent on the tax liability of those businesses and individuals participating in the tax credit program.
“That’s always the million-dollar question,” she said. “So far, we’re not aware of any of our past donors either cutting back or going out of business, so that’s always a positive. But it’s always unknown until we receive the contributions.”
Allocations to day schools from the Federation itself also “increased a little bit this year,” said Ilene Rinn, director of planning and allocations at the Federation, “and this year we added an additional $3,300 to each school.”
The SPE created last year “definitely helped us bridge the gap in the budget shortfall last year,” said Chezky Rosenfeld, director of development at Yeshiva Schools. “It raised awareness in the community about the EITC program and how much we depend on these funds to keep the schools going.”
Rosenfeld credited Stein and Roi Mezare, senior manager of financial resource development at the Federation, for helping the schools establish the SPE and getting the word out about the EITC program.
“It’s important to keep raising awareness,” Rosenfeld said.
Despite the increase in EITC funds last year, and the increased Federation allocation, Yeshiva is still “definitely facing a budget shortfall this year,” according to Rosenfeld.
“We are doing what we can to bridge the gap,” he said. “Our expenses never go down.”
Yeshiva is working to increase its donor base and helping many of its families pursue government funding that is available for preschool education, said Rosenfeld.
Yeshiva, though, is not raising tuition.
“There is only so much that families can pay,” he said. “The majority are on scholarships already.”
Consolidating responsibilities of its staff is one way that Yeshiva tries to cut expenses; if a staff member leaves the school, instead of replacing him, the school often seeks to transfer that person’s duties to another current staff member. Teacher salaries have not been cut.
While Hillel raised its infant to 2-year-old tuition “to match the other equivalent Jewish day care tuitions in Squirrel Hill,” its other tuitions have remained stable, according to Dan Kraut, CEO of Hillel.
Unlike Yeshiva, Hillel is not facing a funding shortfall this year, Kraut said, crediting the newly formed SPE for helping the school to meet its budget.
CDS is still expecting a budget shortfall this year, according to Avi Baran Munro, head of school, but she noted that higher-than-
anticipated SPE and EITC revenue helped to lessen that shortfall, “as did carefully monitoring and controlling our expenses.”
CDS continues to “focus on expense reduction without impacting the quality of education,” Munro added. “Cash reserves from prior years are available to help bridge revenue shortfalls.”
CDS is raising tuition this year, she said, and has “made some reductions in staff size while maintaining our commitment to all our current programming.”
CDS is also “redoubling” its efforts to fundraise, “calling on the community to help guarantee that future generations of Jewish children in Pittsburgh will continue to have access” to a CDS education, according to Munro. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.