Case Study: Economic Diversity

Originally presented at the 2007 RAVSAK Annual Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, this case study accompanies
Dr. Bob Berk’s article on pages 4-5.

The Goldberg Hebrew Academy, a pre-K to 8th grade community day school of 300 students is located in Platinum Park, CA, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles infamous for million dollar price-tags on even the smallest of homes. By all measures, Goldberg Hebrew Academy is a school of excellence – beautiful facilities, a top-notch academic program, a rich Judaic curriculum, prize winning sports teams, a state-of-the-art performing arts center, and a highly trained teaching faculty deeply devoted to student achievement. Not surprisingly, Goldberg Hebrew Academy is seen as a leading independent school highly desired by Jewish families from Platinum Park and across the Greater LA area.

Like most Jewish day schools, Goldberg Hebrew Academy serves a largely middle and upper-middle class population. Annual tuition increases – needed to stay at the forefront of the independent school market – have had little impact on the most well-to-do families, for whom rising tuition remains in reach, and equally little bearing on the least affluent families, for whom their limited means call for significant financial assistance. Historically, Goldberg Hebrew Academy has been able to offer its lower income families the aid necessary to be present in the school.

In preparing the budget for the coming school year, the head of school and business manager agree that they will need to recommend that tuition be set at $19,000 per student in the lower school and $21,000 in the middle school, an increase of 12% from the year before. Without this sharp increase, the school will be unable to offer raises to teachers and will again need to reduce its contribution toward faculty health insurance. The director of admissions, who understands her job to be as much about retention as it is new recruits, raises the concern that an additional 17% of the student body would now qualify for financial aid, but that these “on the cusp” middle class families have been known to leave the school rather than “admit” the need for aid. She also questioned the impact that such a tuition hike might have on the school culture – as is, the older students speak of the “LKs” and the “FKs” (Lexus Kids and Ford Kids) and teachers joke about leaving the profession to become household help in students’ homes.

Working the Case

The Board Chair has assembled a task force composed of lay and professional leaders to explore the challenge at hand. To be sure, this task force is not being asked to balance the budget – they are asked to report back to the Board their ideas for maintaining economic diversity with the least negative impact on the school’s vibrant reputation, school culture, and fiscal bottom line.

For now, your task is as follows:

You and your tablemates are the task force charged with understanding the impact of becoming a high-tuition institution on the school and its constituencies. How will you go about this work? What research will you do? How will you determine the real financial thresholds for current and future families? What recruitment and retention initiatives would you undertake? How will your decisions impact the teachers? Your current student body? Your perception in the community? How will your work mesh with the school’s vision of what it means to be a community day school? How will you implement your plan? How will you pay for it?

Factors to consider:

  • The school currently assumes 20% of potential tuition will be abated as financial aid.
  • Rumors of the proposed tuition hike have begun circulating and some families have quietly looked at other, less costly schools.
  • Money is a factor: The school is struggling to meet its $3.8 M annual budget.
  • Each class (average of 32 students) is currently arranged into 2 sections of 16 kids per year. School bylaws cap class size at 18; a significant drop in enrollment could lead to classes of fewer than 10 – a financial, social, and educational problem.

Please assign the following responsibilities within your group:

  • Conversation facilitator
  • Scribe
  • Time keeper
  • Reporter

You have 30 minutes to work on this case with your tablemates. At the end of the half-hour, your reporter will be asked to share a few of your group’s insights. ♦

Knowledge Topics
Published: Fall 2007