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Before I begin, I would like to call your attention to Rabbi Stephen Kahn’s Blog because I believe it represents what is best about any community: thoughtful discourse about sensitive events brought to the fore. Rabbi Kahn addresses the issue of forced Pluralism and his thoughts about the Pardes – JSA Merger.

I know that in almost all instances, I have pushed Pardes to open their books, file their IRS 990’s, and bring a healthy dose of sunlight on to their financial position so that we can step up and help. One board director told me that he thought that I was wrong to push for openness in the midst of merger plans and I told the board member that since the merger is not yet final, that their shareholders (which are the parents of the students) must be consulted, because a school without students is called Jess Schwartz Academy. When you read below about the staggering amounts of money that have been donated to JSA and to King David, you will see exactly why a top down decision, driven by wealthy donors is not a gurantee of success. Indeed, it seems to be a recipe for failure.

The William and Ina Levine Foundation and the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundations are required to make their tax returns available to the general public. These foundations comply with the law and their gifts to other philanthropies and non-profit organizations are well documented and they are to be commended for their philanthropic works. Both Guidestar and Charity Navigator provide access to their tax returns, and those links are located here for the Ina Levine Foundation and here for the Jess Schwartz Foundation.

In the Levine Foundation’s 990 for 2008, they made gifts totaling $970,586. Of these gifts, the Federation of Phoenix received $300,000, the JCC received $110,000. There were no donations made to Reform Jewish Charities or to Jewish Schools in the Valley. In their 2007 990 filing, the Levine Foundation generously supported the King David School with a gift of $325,000. They also gave $302,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, and $72,947 to the JCC. They gave a total of $1,707,988 and Phoenix is very lucky to have such supportive donors in the Levine Foundation. There were many smaller donations to Orthodox and Conservative Schools, but nothing to any Reform Schools. This is not to be taken as anything bad, the Levine Foundation supports the giving vision of their Trustees and it is terrific that they give away such large sums of money. In 2006, the Levine Foundation gave $1,000 to the Jewish Federation, $84,840 to the JCC, and $250,000 to the King David School. That year, their charitable donations totaled $1,157,391.00

The Jess and Sheila Schwartz Family Foundation gave away a total of $1,780,695 in 2007, according to their 990’s. The Jess Schwartz Community High School received $1,001,356, and PEJE (Partners for Excellence in Jewish Education – this is the organization frequently cited by Jill Kessler) received $325,000. In 2008, the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundation gave away $1,688,550. The Jess Schwartz Community High School received $999,446, the Federation received $50,0000, and King David School received $205,000.00. Pardes received $4,600 (first Reform based Jewish gift I have seen from either foundation). The JCC received $22,500. In 2009, the last year I have access to records, the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundation donated $898,793, a drop in giving by the foundation of approximately 50%, but still incredibly generous, and the Jess Schwartz School received $198,798 (down from $1.2 million the year before), the Federation received $50,000, and PEJE received another $300,000.00 Interestingly, the Phoenix Hebrew Academy, which was founded by Jess Schwartz, received $100,000. There were no gifts made to Reform Jewish Schools.

It is very difficult to know what the financial wherewithal of these foundations are because the JS Foundation operates as a pass through, where the body of money is put into the trust every year and then spent. So if the people funding the Foundation have substantial assets, then the funding can go on for a very long time. The Levine Foundation has substantial holdings in equities, which is very detailed, but again, the last information I have available is from two years ago.

What is absolutely incredible, and not able to be disputed from the records that we do have, is that King David School and the Jess Schwartz Academy were the recipients of more than $2.8 million dollars from these two Foundations within the last four years and there is nothing to show of this incredibly generous support to the community other than an empty building and 40 students. I am guessing that my figures are actually just a small fraction of what these two foundations have donated (the law only requires three years of the most recent statements to be posted). I actually get a knot in my stomach when I think about how poorly their donations were stewarded by the leadership of JSA, and if anything, the leadership of JSA owes a very large apology for taking this money and setting it ablaze. They owe an apology to the Foundations first and foremost, and second, to the Jewish Community in whose interests they were supposed to act and protect. Unfortunately, sometimes “sorry” is just not enough.

This brings me half way around the circle to asking, why does Pardes want to embrace this? We know money is not the key to success, and we know relying on a concentration of small donors is not a key to success. It was mentioned at the Town Hall Censorship Festival when the merger was explained, sort of, that the merger would eliminate confusion among donors and would allow Pardes to get national grants from Ravsak and PEJE. According to Ravsak’s 2008 990 filing (Ravsak is technically known as the “Jewish Community Day School Network), also available on Guidestar, their largest inbound grant came from PEJE, and it was about $110,000. Ravsak’s 990 from 2008 boasts that they serve the leadership and management needs of 30,000 Jewish Day Students from 120 Jewish Day Schools in North America and they stand at the cutting edge of Jewish Day School Education and Leadership. In this year, they received $1,076,481 in donations and grants and their executive director earned $140,000.00, or 14% of all money given to Ravsak (that’s a disgraceful ratio by the way). Finally, I have found A Jewish organization that makes the Federation’s management look like Warren Buffet. So, basically, that leaves approximately $860,000 to deal with 30,000 students and 120 schools, or, $7,166 for each school, or $28.00 dollars per student. So it looks like merging the schools to please Ravsak might get Pardes $28.00 per student = $8,960.

We also need to look at PEJE, the Partnership for Jewish Education. Their 2009 990 shows that they took in $2,290,700 and spent $442,000 compensating their Rabbi – leader, Joshua Elkin (who will be stepping down to do something else as of May 11, 2011. Just to keep this in perspective, Warren Buffet’s salary is $100,000), and $191,146 Compensating Amy Katz and $191,146 compensating Cheryl Finkel. That is $824,000 paid to three people of a tax exempt organization that collects 2.29 million dollars. So they are spending 35% of the money they collected on themselves. A new low, even worse than Ravsak. Maybe we should be happy with the devils we know. I don’t even think Bernard Madoff stole that high of a percentage of the money he collected. PEJE also gave out 11 grants, the largest was $150,000 to Ravsak, and then 10 other schools received $236,000, but the New Orleans School received $66,000 so the 9 other Jewish Day Schools received on average $18,888.

Clearly, the idea of merging the schools to get PEJE and Ravsak funds has either not been researched enough, since it will yield very little in the way of funding, or the Board of Pardes has been deceived. I actually do not know what is more troubling, merging with JSA or being affiliated with PEJE or Ravsak. If I was affiliated with PEJE or RAVSAK, I certainly would not tell anyone. So this argument about access to grant money goes into the intellectual dishonesty bin with, ‘they were going to start their Hebrew Language Charter School.”

Now, what remains? In my mind, the only possibility is that these two foundations, the William and Ina S. Levine Foundation and the Jess and Sheila Schwartz Foundation have promised Pardes something monetarily to become a Forced Pluralistic School and move to the Jess Schwartz campus. However, I actually think this is really unlikely because it would be beyond my ability to comprehend how such successful business people like the Levine’s and the Schwartz’s could be duped again by the management of JSA. Donors want to see results, and even the most passionate donors eventually realize they have been lead astray and that the assets that they worked so hard to accumulate, were just set ablaze, under the justification that this was somehow “good for the community.”

I think now that the matter of the campus is settled and everything is not rushed, it would be prudent to call off the merger, focus on building Pardes, being open with Pardes’ financials so we know what we are all facing, and not doing things in haste. Really, if we need to be deciding what is best for Pardes from the likes of the management of Ravsak, PEJE, JSA and the Federation, G-d help us all.