Shalhevet, YULA, Valley Torah agree to cut Admissions spending


Photo by Lucy Fried

BUFFET: Students and parents filled their plates at this year’s less expensive Open House.

Hoping to stop what they called an “admissions arms race,” the heads of school of Shalhevet, YULA Boys, YULA Girls and Valley Torah have agreed to decrease spending on recruitment of new students.

In a letter signed by the four heads of school and e-mailed to the Shalhevet community Nov. 4, they said they would scale back “resources, be it in money, staff, or time, in the pursuit of incoming students.”

“We are pleased to announce to you that all of us, as Heads of School, have, in working together, jointly committed to enhancing our recruitment processes by lowering expenses whenever possible, and focusing the admissions process on substance rather than flash,” the letter stated.

Rabbi Segal said the spending was a strain on school resouraces and that “frills” distracted from the actual goal of Admissions.

“I think we’re distracting people from what they should be thinking about,” Rabbi Segal said in an interview. “I don’t want to tell people what to make a decision based on, but at Shalhevet we decide based on the school, based on the educational experience, not based on the frills.”

The agreement by Rabbi Segal, Rabbi Dov Emerson of YULA Boys, Rabbi Abraham Lieberman of YULA Girls and Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger at Valley Torah came out of a meeting at Fish Grill, where the four have been meeting on occasion for two years now.

“This particular committee that started with Rabbi Segal convening has a certain beauty to it,” said Rabbi Lieberman. “It brings people together under different issues. There’s a broader message in here, which is unity and working together with other heads of schools.”

Rabbi Stulberger of Valley Torah said the bigger idea behind the initiative is that schools should not have a “Come to me, come to me, come to me” approach to admissions.

“The idea that every kid belongs in every school and we all just rush for the same kid is a mistake,” Rabbi Stulberger said. “We shouldn’t be rushing to every kid, there are different schools with different strengths, and the real message is that the kid who would thrive in this environment, whether it’s Valley Torah, YULA, or Shalhevet, that’s where they should go.”

To meet this goal, Valley Torah has cut its overall admissions budget by about a third, Rabbi Stulberger said. At last year’s admissions Open House, they hired a caterer. This year, he said, they eliminated the caterer and saved almost $7,000 on food between the high school’s girls’ and boys’ campuses.

They also gave out backpacks at the boys’ Open House and and laptop covers at the girls’ school, as they did last year, but this year sprung for less pricey options and found a better deal, he said.

Shalhevet promised to spend half of what it had spent in the past on food. Rabbi Segal said Admissions events gradually had become more and more elaborate until without realizing it, they were taking too much time and effort.

“I’m not suggesting being frugal,” Rabbi Segal said in an interview. “I actually think thoughtful spending should go up in many ways at schools to improve the quality of the education, the quality of our functioning as a school, but this seemed to be somewhat wasteful.”

Shalhevet has cut its overall Admissions budget by 34 percent, and its Admissions-specific food budget by 50 percent, according to Rabbi Segal and Admissions Director Natalie Weiss.

According to Ms. Weiss, last year’s Shalhevet Fall Open House, which is held every November, featured a $1,000 candy bar and desserts that cost $2,000, in addition to catering from LA Burger Bar.

Open House used LA Burger Bar again this year, but spent only $500 on desserts and appetizers, she said.

Both Rabbi Segal and Ms. Weiss said Shalhevet’s best admissions programs are the student visit days and Winterm — Sunday sample meetings of Shalhevet co-curriculars — which are also the most inexpensive. These events only require the modest price of pizza and salad, which means the budget for Shalhevet’s most important admissions events will not be cut.

The spending was perhaps more surprising since tuition is difficult for so many in Jewish private schools. Full tuition at the four schools averages around $31,000 per student per year.

Rabbi Lieberman said YULA Girls s did not cut back as much as the other schools in the compact, because they had been spending much less to begin with.

“I honestly did not know exactly how much money we were spending on food for example, but when I saw it I thought ‘Oh my gosh, we better cut this back,’” said Rabbi Lieberman. “But when I looked at the figures [of the other schools], I thought, ‘Oh, we did not spend that much money to start with.’”

By offering less swag and using their in-house caterer in YULA Girls’ kitchen to make food for Open House, they were saving already money other schools were not, he said.

This contrasted the most with YULA Boys, whose events frequently featured much more meat than the admissions programs for prospective female students — a major “difference in machinery” between recruiting boys and girls, as Rabbi Lieberman put it. Rabbi Emerson could not be reached for comment.

But Rabbi Lieberman said he signed the letter anyway, because of the bigger messages of working together for the community. The initiative was a chance for all the schools to examine their budgets.

“Let’s be wise and careful with our money, money is hard to come by,” Rabbi Lieberman.

For now at least, the detente is working on an honor code.

“We talked about a list of standardized rules,” said Rabbi Segal. “But … because of the time crunch and the desire to respect each school’s process for decision-making around these things, we kicked that can down the road a little bit. We just kind of all agreed, kind of like a handshake deal, to lower expenses.”

Shoshana Yarmus, a prospective eighth grader from Emek Hebrew Academy who is looking at both YULA and Shalhevet, enjoyed the less extravagant admissions event during her student visitor day on Dec. 8.

“I like events like this because I get to experience what it’s like to have a regular day at Shalhevet,” Shoshana said after Town Hall that day. “Honestly I didn’t pay attention to [the food].”

Rabbi Segal and Rabbi Stulberger both said the cutbacks would be a good way to weed out students and families who are interested in the glitz and glamor of a school, and not its educational philosophies or missions.

Rabbi Stulberger said that because of this, the cutbacks will actually help, not hurt, Valley Torah.

“I think that helps us, because if a parent chooses another school because they’re fancier, then I’m not sure if in the long run that kid would have been better off by us anyway,” Rabbi Stulberger told the Boiling Point. “Every kid needs to find their own school.”