Thursday, May 28, 2020

Englewood—At two Moriah Town Hall meetings on April 23 and 25, parents viewed a presentation by the school’s board of directors explaining Moriah’s financial and enrollment status along with an agenda for fine-tuning student recruitment, hiring and curriculum going forward. “Moriah is in transition from a larger to a smaller school,” said Evan Sohn, president of the board. “It’s challenging, but we no longer have to be all things to all people. We can listen to what the parents want.”

The board has been seeking input from parents since last September. through idea sessions hosted in parents’ homes and with email surveys Many have been already been implemented, like the new writing program in the middle school and offerings of a more intensive Hebrew language program in early childhood and the lower school.

The first order of business has been to get Moriah’s financial house in order. The budget took a hit when enrollment for September was 804 students instead of the expected 832. That translated into an $800,000 loss in revenues. (Approximately $29,000 per child in tuition.)

Working with consultants from Yeshiva University, Moriah reviewed its financial policies and looked line item expenses to determine how to lower costs. They discovered Moriah was spending more than other day schools in the area. Moriah gave more scholarship money to fewer students and had an abatement program, a streamlined tuition discount for parents who had to submit tax returns but not undergo a lengthy review.

“We took in $1.2 million at our development dinner but gave out $1.8 million in funds. That unfunded money came from tuition,” Sohn said. “We looked at everything, from the electric meters, where we were able to save $7,000, to the cost of faculty, which we had to reduce.” The decision not to rehire 19 or 20 teachers has caused pain for everyone at the school.

“The criteria were left to administrators,” Sohn said. “Teachers at every level were affected. But it wasn’t about last hired, first out, or who cost the most. We had to look at what the school needed. The average time a teacher spent at Moriah was 11 years. You don’t stay at Moriah that long if you’re not good. Inevitably, someone’s favorite teacher had to be let go; it’s very sad.”

Sohn said that Moriah pays faculty the highest salaries of all the day schools, and they want to stay at the top of the pay scale to “attract and retain the best teachers and give them opportunities for leadership and advancement.” Moriah was also giving teachers the highest tuition benefits for their children, and that amount will be brought down to the same level as at other schools.

The board’s marching orders are to finance development, create tuition sustainability and improve parent participation. Once tuition is stabilized, Moriah can look at fixing the roof and funding pension plans. The school also wants to sharpen its identity and more aggressively promote itself to students in the new competitive landscape of day school choices.

“Moriah has always provided the highest quality education,” Sohn said, “but now we have to aggressively promote ourselves to let everyone know that. We have always been at the cutting edge with new programs and introduction of technology.” He pointed out that a new advanced math class was added – and a new teacher hired – and that all 6th graders now have iPads. On the other end, there are more support programs for students who need help, for many who would otherwise not be able to have a day school education. “Dr Prager (Moriah Head of School) says we have 804 students and 804 curricula,” Sohn added.

The board has divided the school into separate units” early childhood, lower school and middle school, to more accurately plan programs and curriculum for each. A Student Life Committee is looking at how to differentiate Moriah from other schools and how to make that difference attractive, since each yeshiva/day school in Bergen has its own niche.

Ben Porat Yosef, Noam and Yeshiva H’Atid are smaller, newer schools that are attracting parents looking to be a part of their growth. The two other day schools with a long history in Bergen County are Yavneh Academy in Paramus and Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in New Milford.

Seventy-year-old Yavneh Academy, which has been in Bergen County for half of that

726 students with a projection of 740 for next year; the highest in a decade according to Board President Elie Rosenfeld.. The student body comes mostly from Teaneck, Fair Lawn and Paramus. “We promote what we can do for the betterment of students. We focus on new learning strategies, new curriculum and technology,” Rosenfeld said. “Our classes are almost paperless now. Students do research and work online, they do videos and power point presentations. We’re turning learning into something students enjoy. We continue to excel at using technology in an educational model. Other schools are still catching up.”  Like Moriah, Yavneh has to evaluate every item in the budget, a process that Rosenfeld said allows the administration to also evaluate every program and make it more efficient.

The largest Bergen County day school is now the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey. Current enrollment is 1, 048 students with 1,070 registered for the 2013-2014 year. Board president Azi Mandel said the student body comes primarily from Teaneck, Bergenfield, New Milford, Fair Lawn and Paramus, with some from Englewood, New York City, Riverdale and Rockland County. “Families have told us they chose to move to our community because they were looking for a yeshiva like RYNJ,” Mandel said in an email interview. With the increase in enrollment, faculty will be expanded for the coming year.

Mandel said RYNJ focuses on providing “a top quality education in both limudei kodesh and secular studies while prioritizing middot tovot and the development of fine character and self-esteem in our students.” He said that RYNJ has not been affected by the opening of the new schools. “The RYNJ hashkafa, along with our successful approach, set us apart and keep us an attractive choice for families.” He added that “Bergen County residents are truly fortunate to have so many high quality institutions to choose from.”

By Bracha Schwartz