A first-of-its-kind national study, conducted by the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University, surveyed the presidents of Jewish day schools and found that a key to more affordable schools rests with improving board functioning in two critical areas: financial planning and fundraising.
The study was designed to yield insight into how Jewish Day School Board Presidents assess the effectiveness of their Boards on key dimensions of Board performance. The underlying performance areas that were selected for inclusion in the survey have been derived by Harry Bloom based on his analysis of assessment tools, training materials, and publications by professional organizations.
The survey was delivered via the Internet and targeted at the Board Presidents of Jewish day schools affiliated with the following school networks: Yeshiva University (Modern Orthodox Day Schools), RAVSAK (Community Day Schools), Solomon Schechter Day School Association (Conservative Day Schools), and PARDeS (Reform Day Schools).
To date, more than 70 Board Presidents have responded to the survey, representing roughly one quarter of the schools represented by these networks. The schools whose Presidents responded are diverse in terms of grades offered, size, age, location and denominational affiliation.
Board president responses revealed a number of key opportunities to reduce the growing affordability gaps currently faced by say schools:
- Only about one-third of presidents strongly agree that board members give their schools their top personal philanthropic gifts or that they generate financial support for school events.
- Only about one-quarter of presidents feel that board members are actively engaged in identifying and cultivating potential major donors for their institutions.
- Only about 24 percent of presidents strongly agree that their schools have a comprehensive long-range financial plan.
At the same time, presidents overwhelmingly say that fundraising/advocacy and strategic planning, the two areas in which their boards are underperforming, are the two areas that impact most on overall school performance and affordability.
Boards Must Improve in the Following Key Areas
The research conducted among the Board Presidents of nearly 70 Jewish day schools reveals many strengths but also some critical areas that require focused improvement. These are detailed below:
There is a need for improved performance in visioning and planning, including strategic and long range financial planning, and for the reflection of that long range planning in annual planning and the Board calendar and meetings.
There is a critically important need for improvement in the involvement of Board members in fundraising and advocacy. By engaging all Board members in this effort, schools can make major short term and longer term improvements in their abilities to fund their programs and moderate tuition increases and/or increase financial aid.
There is a need for improvements in the Board-Head of School relationship including making required norms:
- The codification of written, agreed annual goals for the Head of School/Principal
- Conducting regular meetings between the Board President and Head of School to build alignment on key strategic priorities and policies.
- Board member recruitment and education must become the yea-round work of a Commitees on Trustees comprised of the strongest Board members in order to ensure a steady stream of Board members with the requisite wealth, wisdom and work to accomplish the strategic and financial plans of the school and achieve its vision.
- Boards must elevate their care in fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities by developing and insisting on annual written agreement to conflict of interest provisions and by implementing target percentage limits on parent membership on the Board.
- Finally ,there is a need for enhancement in the education of Board members and in their understanding of bylaws so they can more fully and effectively fulfill their responsibilities. Schools, as educational institutions, should particularly appreciate the importance of an educated Board.