While the newly named Farber Hebrew Day School-Yeshivat Akiva in Southfield welcomed students this week for the school year, a 31 percent shortfall in expected tuition assistance is causing some families to scramble for last-minute loans or make alternate arrangements for their children’s education.
Established in 1964, Farber Hebrew Day School is a dual-curriculum Ortho-dox Zionist day school for students in grades N-12. Parents uphold the institution’s long-held reputation for providing Jewish studies and secular education steeped in strong Torah values and high academic standards.
In 2012, two generous gifts from the Audrey and William Farber Family Foundation ($3 million) and the William Davidson Foundation ($2.25 million) allowed the growing school to embark on an ambitious $15 million 50th anniversary improvement plan that included expanding and renovating its physical space and updating its academic programs, with guidance from the Bar-Ilan University Lookstein Center for Education in Ramat Gan, Israel, which is dedicated to enhancing Jewish education in the diaspora.
An additional gift of $5 million from the Farber Family Foundation, combined with fundraising efforts by parents and other supporters, has enabled the school to build its 68,200-square-foot building, expected to open to students after winter break, that includes distinct wings and classrooms for each of the school’s four divisions as well as room for new staff members, increased professional development opportunities and technological improvements that include Chromebooks and other electronic enhancements.
For some families, the excitement of the new-and-improved version of the school was dampened by an Aug. 8 letter (received via email on Aug. 12) explaining that the pool of available tuition assistance dollars had decreased by 31 percent this year. That fact, combined with an increased demand for financial aid, resulted in the school’s inability to meet all of the families’ requests.
Some of the parents were awarded one-time “Gesher Grants” from a special fund designed to soften the blow of this year’s reduction in aid, but the letter made it clear this fund would not be available for the 2017-18 school year. Families unable to meet their tuition obligations for this year were directed to contact other community resources, such as Hebrew Free Loan.
While some Farber families have contacted Hebrew Free Loan, the agency is not necessarily the best option for families with ongoing needs for tuition assistance, according to HFL Executive Director David Contorer. The maximum loan amount is $7,500, the usual repayment period is one year and each loan requires two Michigan-based co-signers with credit scores above 620.
“It is not a solution for everybody, but we would be happy to talk to anyone who comes in. We realize these are very challenging circumstances,” said Contorer.
An email from Malkie Rosenbloom, Farber’s director of marketing and communications, stated that “well over half” of the school’s approximately 300 students receive some level of tuition assistance; however, school administrators declined to comment on why the school was experiencing the shortfall in tuition aid dollars.
Farber’s allocation from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit for 2016-17 has not decreased since last year, according to Linda Blumberg, Federation’s director of Planning and Agency Relations. In fact, it was slightly higher.
The following is an excerpt from an email statement sent by Board President Leah Ann Kleinfeldt in response to JN inquiries about the tuition aid reductions.
The school very much values every student, regardless of financial resources. The vast majority of Farber students receive tuition subsidies; however, there are limited tuition assistance dollars available. A careful review of the school’s accounts receivables concluded that in the best interest of the school and all of its families, we need to be more diligent about the level of tuition families are required to pay. To maximize the assistance available for those most in need, like all Jewish day schools, we utilize an anonymous process that takes into account several factors.
Following the implementation of that process, we also provide an appeal opportunity so that factors that cannot be seen from the hard data can be taken into consideration. The result is a tuition assistance allocation for each family that is not in a position to pay full tuition. After difficult deliberations, the financial aid committee concluded to observe more faithfully the determinations of the analytics (subject to an appeals process).
These matters are emotional and serious. The tuition subsidy process is, as it should be, confidential, but we know that recipients are friends and neighbors. Still, the school concluded, with a heavy heart, that these measures are critical to ensuring the integrity of the tuition assistance program and to position Farber for the greatness to which it strives, for the benefit of the entire school (and indeed the entire Detroit Jewish community).
We, of course, are diligently working to raise more money, as every school is, so that we can further invest in the education offerings and student well-being.
One such endeavor is the school’s annual tuition assistance fundraiser, Lead the Way, to be held Sunday, Sept. 18. An invitation to the event, received by mail on Monday, indicated that “for the 2016-2017 academic year, 55 percent of Farber families receive tuition assistance, 35 percent of which receive over 80 percent tuition assistance. The total amount of assistance provided exceeds $1.2 million.”
Farber officials did not explain why parents were not informed about their tuition aid awards until two weeks before the start of classes, a factor that generated several complaints from families who might have made other arrangements if they had been given more notice.
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, described the situation as “punitive and exclusionary” because the timing prevented families from applying to programs in Israel or elsewhere that may have been more affordable. For families who live in less-than-desirable public school districts, it is too late to apply for out-of-district attendance.
“I don’t know if I’d be as upset if they hadn’t waited so long,” said the parent, who has two children enrolled in the school.
While Farber increased the amount of aid after the parent appealed the decision, the family’s obligation for two children is still double last year’s amount.
Another parent compared Farber to Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, where families who had applied for tuition assistance were informed of their financial aid awards last March.
A parent sent the JN a link to the Farber website, highlighting this portion in the FAQ section: “We do not turn away any child for financial reasons …” The website also outlines the confidential process for obtaining tuition assistance.
“If no one is turned away for financial reasons, I don’t understand why students are being forced to leave the school,” the parent said.
One family considering alternative schools because of the tuition aid reduction said her children would be “heartbroken” if they could not return to Farber. All of the parents interviewed spoke highly of the school, praising its family-like environment, the excellent curriculum and the devoted staff members.
At press time, the JN had confirmed two families whose children were not returning to Farber because of finances; another parent said he believes the final numbers will be higher. Other families are concerned about next year when the Gesher grants are no longer available.
“I’d be really sad if I didn’t get to go anymore,” said a high school student who has been attending the school since nursery school.
Another family who received financial assistance for the upcoming year was still unsure at press time if their children would be going back to Farber.
One other parent said, “It [the tuition assistance award] was very generous, but I still can’t do it,” adding they had to use credit cards to pay off their remaining balance from last year. “What do we do? Our children don’t want to leave Akiva.”
Farber Hebrew Day School will hold its annual tuition fundraiser, started in 2010 by ninth-graders who wanted to help ease the financial burden for fellow students, at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, in a private home. The brunch requires a minimum gift of $1,000. RSVP at www.farberhds.org/giving/leadtheway or call Linda Pedder at (248) 386-1625 Ext. 305.
By Ronelle Grier | Contributing Writer
A Look At Tuitions
• Tuition at Farber Hebrew Day School in Southfield, where 55 percent of students receive tuition assistance, is $18,000 for grades 9-12; $15,280 for grades 6-8; $13,310 for grades 1-5; $11,420 for kindergarten; and nursery school varies from $3,430 for three half days to $8,560 for five full days; before and after school care is available for an additional fee.
• At Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, where 559 students from early childhood through eighth grade are currently enrolled, tuition ranges from $3,565 for three days in the Early Childhood Center program to $19,070 for grades 1-8. Approximately 53 percent of Hillel students receive some form of tuition assistance, according to the school.
• At Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, which has approximately 200 high school students, tuition is $22,456 per year, according to its website. A multi-year flexible tuition program is in effect there.