Monday, March 12, 2007

Day Schools and Financial Disclosure

It seems that no matter where I am, whenever I get together with other Jewish parents at some point the conversation gravitates towards the subject of Day School tuition. The thought came to me recently to look up schools on Guidestar (a service that rates charities. Since most Day Schools in the US are registered as tax-exempt organizations, they are listed here), but, it would seem that Day Schools and other religious institutions are not required to file the same IRS form 990 that charities are. Primarily because they are faith-based and don't need to.

It's funny, each year, my kids school sends me a lovely letter to accompany the next years tuition schedule. It seems that the year is the same year in year out. Save for the date and dollar values, there is always the same story about why they are justified in raising tuition.

While I don't doubt their motives or analysis, I find it insulting to my intelligence that they don't provide us with some sort of summary financial data.

To be frank, I am not looking for detailed salaries for every last staff member, but it would be nice to see the breakdown of salaries between administrative, teachers, and managerial staffs. A breakdown of maintenance and other costs would be nice as well.

Truthfully what are schools afraid of? The number should tell a story - a story that justifies tuition increases, and that should be evident from some simple numbers. If it's not, the school has some explaining to do.

As a parent, seeing the numeric justification will enable me to have confidence in the value I am receiving from the school, as well as compel me to potentially give more. It will also empower me as a person to feel as if I have some more disclosure and input as to the direction the school is going in.

It is well played out that parents who ask for scholarships need to bare their lives and finances to school administrators - why should those administrators be forced to share the same data with us?


Anonymous said...

As an auditor (education sector)and fellow Yeshiva tuition payer, I feel your pain.

Most public schools must make do with roughly $5K to $6K per pupil. They do not benefit from donations. Buildings are used for decades. Expenses are highly scrutinized by multiple layers of audits.

How are we holding our schools accountable?

Is it time to open a responsible school that gives you bang for your buck without making you broke?

Yonah said...

Dear Anonymous,

Everything is relative. Different districts have different amounts of educational capital. For example, in NYC, $5 or $6K per pupil might be accurate, as opposed to the burbs where it can be double or triple that.

In addition, buildings may be used for decades, but they can adjust demand for property and facilities based on demographics. For example, there are a lot of former NYC public schools in Borough PArk that are now being used as Yeshivas.

My point was not to open a new school, but to get our schools to be a little more open with us. We, after all, in a sense, are their shareholders and they are partners in our children's education. If a school is being run properly, and can show that in the form of some sort of abbreviated financial statements so that we as parents can see where our money actually goes, it will serve two purposes:

1. We will better see the value in the $$ we are paying

2. They will be better able to make the case for increases