THE JCA’S NEW ENDOWMENT FUND – “FULFILLING THE PROMISE” TO WASTE THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY’S MONEY

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There are two precepts that I tend to place above all others when it comes to businesses.  The first precept is that it is impossible to fix stupid.  Nothing can be done to remedy the management of an enterprise, if the management is made up of stupid people.  It will not be possible to make them smart.  The management must be changed.  The second precept is that if a company is managed by dishonest people, the investors will lose more money than if the management was just merely stupid.  Another way to say this is that you can rarely lose more money through a stupid decision than someone can steal from you.

The new endowment fund that was launched by our JCA might represent the rare opportunity to lose twelve million dollars through a combination of management dishonesty and stupidity.  It is really a Ponzi-like scheme, taking fresh money to cover the future losses while calling it an “endowment”, which generally connotes sustainability and perpetuity.  Therefore, I am going to call this new scheme a “Ponzdowment”.  I might be so isolated as to never have heard of an endowment campaign that has the veiled purpose of covering the operating operating expenses of a failing enterprise, but I doubt it.  Every endowment campaign I have ever reviewed, donated to, or had the pleasure of serving on has had the stated purpose of providing perpetual funding to a particular organization.  I have never actually heard of, or seen an endowment campaign that was designed to spend all the money raised in twelve years, leaving the institution being supported in the same terrible financial shape it was in at the inception of the campaign.  Endowment funds are generally used to help an organization become sustainable.  This Ponzdowment represents a case of “doubling down” that would leave even the most cynical gamblers scratching their heads.

“Fulfilling the Promise” is just a sliver of wordplay symptomatic of continued JCA mismanagement and their inability to be honest with the Jewish community of Phoenix. Instead of the JCA’s board saying to the community: “hey, we f_cked up and squandered $34,000,000.00 of donated money by creating a campus that will never be able to be operated without loss, we are sorry for having done so and we will resign, en-masse”, we are presented with the JCA’s Board directed Solipsism and detachment from reality: a ponzi scheme dressed up by calling it an endowment campaign, euphemistically entitled, “Fulfilling the Promise.”

It is very clear that the promise the JCA’s board is fulfilling is to squander whatever money they missed the first time around, like the Grinch making one more sweep and grabbing that one toy he missed and stuffing it in his bag.  I think that the campaign should be entitled truthfully and named: The Ponzdowment Campaign to Cover Up Our Mistakes to Help Fund A Failing Health Club For Twelve More Years.  With a tag line below it, “Because we think you’re all stupid.”

As to the oft repeated idiocy quoted by the JCA’s wise men of Chelm that: “The success of the campus is imperative to the survival of a strong, cohesive Jewish community in Metro Phoenix”, I have noticed that in the two years that have passed since I have been on that campus, I am still Jewish, I still belong to a synagogue, and my foreskin is still missing.  Maybe it has to be that the building can no longer be standing for the Jewish community of Phoenix to undergo this decimation.  Or maybe the campus is actually The Third Temple and if we don’t support it, that’s OK, just do not expect to be hanging with Moshiach anytime soon.

So, if you, like me, are curious about the management freak show at the JCA, spend the $18.00 and attend the annual meeting at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, Feb. 1 – it could be even more weird than Coney Island’s.

911 – The Survival of the Jewish Community of Phoenix Depends on Sustaining the JCA Campus by Reducing Funding to the Poor and Elderly.

I’m sorry I have not been writing.  I have been Tebowing in the dark for the last several months, hoping that they might start fracking in Scottsdale so that a hole in the earth would open up and swallow both the Federation and the JCC, sparing the Jews of Phoenix the pain and suffering of this cancer.  I am afraid that my prayers have not been answered.

According to the Jewish News of January 20, 2010, the JCA (the new name of the merged JCC and the Jewish Federation of Phoenix), raised 3.4 million dollars, dispensed 1.6 million to partner agencies, pocketed 1.4 million dollars to sustain the health club at the JCC, while using $800,000 for their own overhead.  True to character, they reduced funding allocations again to Kivel and other needy agencies so that we Jews have a state of the art health club.

I particularly love this quote:

In a summary of its major allocations decisions dated Jan. 7, the JCA explained the campus funding by saying, “The success of the campus is imperative to the survival of a strong, cohesive Jewish community in Metro Phoenix,” but added that the current funding level represents “an unsustainable model.”

Who came up with this idea?  Why does the survival of the Jewish community in Phoenix depend on the success of an economically unviable health club?  If the building gets hit by a meteorite, do all the Jews of Phoenix turn into a puddle of goo like the witch from the Wizard of OZ?   What does that building/campus possess that gives life to the Jewish Community of Phoenix?  I have never been in the vault in there, but maybe they have that scroll that they put under the Golem’s tongue to bring it to life to protect us from Arpaio.  Maybe it is the recipe for Gefilte fish, or just maybe it is a copy of a Bernard Madoff Management Book, which has most likely been consulted continuously so that this economically unsustainable (their words, not mine) health club can be supported.  Isn’t a ponzi scheme something where you bring in new money to sustain a scheme that is unsustainable and use the money to pay off earlier mistakes?

That campus shines brightly as a constant reminder of the idiocy of the Federation management that built that campus and the ego driven need of the donors to give their money to the project and get their names on the wall.

I guess the one thing that can be said about the building is that it does help Jews lose weight, both the Jews sweating from their workouts and the Jews getting by on less food: you know, the Jews from Kivel and other needy agencies whose funding was cut to support the campus.

SMARTER JEWS NEEDED, OR MAYBE WE JUST NEED A FEW DECENT ONES. A SALUTE TO THE FEDERATION’S NEW DONORS

Would you still be a member of the Valley of the Sun-JCC, if the inscription on the wall under the name Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus was engraved with the following words:

“This Health Club is Supported Financially by the Broken Committments to Fund the Vulnerable, Elderly and Marginalized Members of our Community, who have Graciously Not Complained about Doing Without Meals, Rabbinical Support and Visitation, Adequate Resources and Medical Care, so that You Can Enjoy Your Visit to this Luxurious Health Club.”

I have wondered how our Federation’s Board ended up determining that the perpetual financial support of an unsustainable health club (the VOS-JCC, by any objective standard is a luxury health club with some office space attached), is more important than providing food and care for the elderly. Another way to ask that question is: What type of people prey on the most vulnerable, marginalized, and disenfranchised members of society for material gain? Keep this question in mind as you make your way through this post and more importantly, when you next visit the Federation’s Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center Health and Fitness Club.

OVERVIEW: We have a very small selection of very philanthropic donors in the Jewish Community of Phoenix. The major gifts that have been made to the Federation have come from four or five families or family foundations. The names of the most prominent families are well known (The Jess and Sheila Schwartz Family Foundation, the William S. & Ina Levine Foundation, the Barness Family Foundation) as their names adorn many of the buildings that would not have been possible without their generosity.

The Board of the Federation has historically been populated by Directors who have business relationships with other directors on the Board, forming a very club-like, or inter-locking directorate. This makes proper governance very difficult.

Since 1986, the Federation of Phoenix has operated with a structural deficit (think of a huge rolling overdraft) where disbursements to the community have outpaced funds raised, but they have been able to cover this overdraft through timing of their payments to Israel and the raising of funds. This structural deficit came crashing down on the heads of the Federation when donations to the Federation dried up due to financial reversals that affected the small concentration of big donors, upon which the Federation relied (and to whom they were beholden). This has been coupled with the incessant funding outlays which have been necessary to operate the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus. The ongoing and unquestioned funding of the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus by the Federation is the result of their Board of Director’s unwillingness to address the benefit of deaccessioning the Campus for fear of alienating one of the two or three large donors who are left. It is axiomatic that when you have a concentration of big donors and a declining base of smaller ones, the charitable organization can not govern itself properly.

THE SICKENING DETAILS

The inter-locking relationships of the Board of Directors is best illustrated by this schedule from the 2007 tax return of the Federation.

So, in 2007, there were two directors who were related by business relationships to at least 7 other directors. I have no idea what the relationship was, but let’s say they were all limited partners in a real estate development. And let’s say that that there was a capital call for the investment and each member of the LLC (who is also a director of the Federation), has to come up with a $500,000 check to save the investment. So let’s say that all the other members of the LLC put in the additional $500,000 to save their LLC, and these same investors, acting in their capacity as Board Members of the Federation, were also opposed to authorizing more Federation funding for the Levine Campus. So the last investor to the LLC, who is wavering on whether to put in another $500,000 because he thinks the deal is bad, comes to his Monthly Federation Board Meetings and says, “you know, I have been thinking about the whole Levine Campus funding shortfalls, and I think that we should keep funding the Campus because it is good for the community.” So the other eight directors, not wanting to anger their business partner, and anxious for his check for their business investment, just decide to go along with his suggestion to appease him. When you have 9 out of 25 directors related to each other through outside business interests, you can be sure that they will vote as a block and that Board effectiveness will be reduced, and 36% of a board is generally enough to sway any company or foundation.

It is interesting to note that Steven Schwarz, who is still on the board, had the greatest number of disclosed relationships. Those relationships are either not required to be disclosed in future filings, or not disclosed, but many of the board members are still the same. Mr. Schwarz is supposed to be leading a think tank for the reform of the governance of our Federation, an organization that he has driven into a ditch in his capacity as a director. I would suggest that he step down from this position and also the board, immediately. He has been on the Board continually since 1998, he chaired the allocation committee in 2008 while being related in business to seven other directors This is a disgrace, an abuse of our trust, and should not be tolerated. Since Mr. Schwarz is now heading up the “governance task force” to determine how the Federation should be governed, it begs the question if it might not also be possible to enlist Bernard Madoff to serve as the Federation’s CFO?

Bob Silver should also step down at once. He has served on the Board since 2002, and if he is just now, in January of 2011, discovering that the Federation has a structural deficit, then I question what he has been doing as a member of the Board for the last 9 years. See article from Jewish News. Additionally, Mr. Silver was quoted as saying that they have done a very poor job in engaging the community. So, the next question that begs to be asked is why is Mr. Silver, a Board member for the last nine years during which this disaster was unfolding, now tasked with solving the problem? What specific skill does he now possess that has been dormant for the last decade? For that matter, the following board members, who have also served for the last nine years, should also step down:

Ann Zinman, Lanny Lahr, Joel Bernick, David Weiner, Sandra Scheinbein, and Barry Zemel (Zemel served since 2005)

WHY FEDERATION SUPPORT OF THE INA LEVINE CAMPUS IS MUCH MORE OF A BURDEN THAN IS ACTUALLY REPORTED – YOU MIGHT CALL IT A FINANCIAL DECEPTION OR FEDERATION THREE CARD MONTY.

Here is how this scheme operates:

Step one: Federation raises money.

Step two: Federation figures out how much money it costs to operate the Ina Levine Campus.

Step three: Federation grants money to agencies and schools located on the Ina Levine Campus. In turn, these organizations pay “rent” to the Ina Levine Campus. In this way, the true cost of what the Federation actually pays to the Ina Levine Campus is hidden within these grants. This shields the Federation from further complaints that the Federation is supporting the Ina Levine Campus to the detriment of other causes.

THEREFORE, THE AMOUNT OF MONEY PAID BY THE FEDERATION TO SUPPORT THE CAMPUS IS MUCH HIGHER THAN THE GRANTS GIVEN DIRECTLY TO THE CAMPUS AND TO THE VOS-JCC.

I will illustrate this from the 2009 IRS 990 filed by the Federation:

The 2009 Federation donation to the VOS-JCC was $680,000.00.

The 2009 Federation donation to the Council for Jews with Special Needs was $60,000. The Council for Jews with Special Needs is housed on the Ina Levine Campus. Their rent, for their office was $10,000 for the year, which is paid back to the VOS-JCC, which is of course, part of the Ina Levine Campus.

And of course, the Bureau of Jewish Education, which paid $93,581 in rent to the VOS-JCC (back to the Federation), after receiving $129,000 from the Federation in a grant.

Let’s look at $102,333 the Federation paid in rent that year to the VOS-JCC, which is of course, money just paid to prop up the facility, money paid to itself.

This seems like a lot of office rent for the amount of full time staff at the Federation. But more importantly, when the rent is added in from the Bureau of Jewish Education and Jews With Special Needs, then the contribution to the VOS-JCC is actually $103,000 greater than what was officially given.

Now let’s look at what happened when the Federation was forced to renege on their promised allocations in 2010 and 2011 and see who took the biggest beating. You can download the allocations here.

I have removed the $300,000 target for Jewish Day Schools and the $150,000 target in what will, supposedly be given out. So, that means that when it came time to hand out the bad news, if you were housed on the Ina Levine Campus, your percentage of what was allocated by the Federation originally, as a percentage of the amount of money raised by the Federation, versus what will actually be distributed, miraculously increased from 55% of the total income to 60% of the total income raised by the Federation. How did that happen?

This is very simple. In order for the Federation to no longer agree to subsidize the Ina Levine Campus, the Board would have to say to the Levine Foundation, something like, “sorry, you were stupid to donate your money to a health club that is unsustainable, and we are very sorry now that this monument that we erected to you needs to be sold.” Of course the reason they would not do that is that without the Levine Foundation, there is very little possibility that the Federation could exist in the future, especially in view of their chronic mismanagement, poor governance, and lack of transparency. So you can now understand why cutting funds to Kivel, reducing food expenditures and Rabbinical visitation to the elderly looks like a good decision if you are on the Federation Board.

NO MATTER HOW MUCH DISCOVERY CHANNEL BOB SILVER WATCHES TO GET MORE IDEAS LIKE SOLAR POWER SALVATION, THE FEDERATION WILL FAIL BECAUSE THE VOS-JCC IS A FAILING INSTITUTION.

Please keep this chart in mind as I will reference it in the following paragraphs.

2009 2008 2007
Members 2,500.00 3,000.00 3,600.00
% Decline From Previous Year -17% -17% No Data
Dues Collected, Millions 1.624 1.783 1.904
% Decline From Previous Year 9% 6% No Data
Program Fees Millions 3.457 3.657 3.472
Change from Prior Year -5% 5% No Data
Percentage of Revenue from Contributions and Grants- JCC 14% 17% 17%
Percentage of Revenue from Contributions and Grants VOS – YMCA 28% 31% 29%
Percentage of Revenue from Contributions and Grants Silicon Valley 62% 60% 40%
Summer Camp Participants VOS JCC 446 617 780
% Decline From Previous Year -28% -21% No Data
VOS JCC PROFITS $(5,336.00) $53,000.00 $(292,941.00)

According to their tax filings, when the VOS-JCC was a separate entity, their membership has been declining 17% per year, but their dues have only been declining a fraction of the amount, which means they have been raising prices on their memberships to existing or new members. The VOS-JCC was losing membership before the financial crisis occurred, and that is important to remember.

The next issue to consider is that their summer camp has had fewer and fewer participants, and that flies in the face of their strategy, which, taken from their tax returns states that the summer camp is very important because it is the first point of contact their members have with the JCC, it is their reason for joining the JCC:

Therefore, if this tax return is correct, and the reason that people join the VOS-JCC initially is through their contact with the JCC as parents of campers, then losing 28% of your enrollment, or even 20% would correlate directly with their loss in membership. The figures in the chart that report the VOS-JCC’s surplus or deficits are completely meaningless: without Federation Support, the Ina Levine Campus can not be sustained.

Lastly, the percentage of grants to run the VOS-JCC as percentage of their total income is so abysmally low when compared to other similar institutions, that there is an an unnecessary burden placed on the collection and raising of membership fees.

That the Board would even continue to fund the VOS-JCC Health Club is impossible for me to understand. That they would reduce funding for Social Services and the Vulnerable to support this health club answers the question that I asked at the beginning of this post. The Board of our Federation and the people who make the allocations are the people who take money from the vulnerable, weak, and voiceless, so that JCC members get the material gain of having a luxury health club and the Federation keeps their unsustainable monument to a select group of donors to whom they have become beholden.

PS – As an aside, a few people have written to me, accusing me of being negative, suggesting I should write only from a positive point of view. Their thought is that if I was positive, upbeat, etc. it would be better, a help in healing our community. In order for the community to be healed there must be trust in our institutions. Trust is a function of having the qualities of openness and competency, and in the Federation, it is unfortunate that we have neither.

The only possibility out of this mess is something I mentioned before: The Ina Levine Campus must be deaccessioned, a receiver should be appointed to oversee the liquidation of the Federation, and their responsibilities should be overseen by the Jewish Community Foundation. We should never again allow our community to be led by individuals whose actions are self serving, repugnant, and a blemish on every Jew in the Greater Phoenix Area.

I would like to acknowledge the many people who helped piece this information together, but who are so scared of retribution from the Federation Board, that they have to remain anonymous. I have spent quite a bit of time speaking to current Federation employees, donors in the community, board members of Pardes Jewish Day School, my staff (who have done the bulk of the financial research), one retired Rabbi from the Reform Community, two currently employed Rabbis, and one President of an Orthodox Schul here in Phoenix. I have also had help with the storyline and editing from active members of the Jewish Community, who are as concerned as I am that everything in this blog is correct. We have over 5,000 hits, so thank you for being interested in making the Jewish Community function properly.

When I grow up, I want to run a JCC – Lots of salary, you get to be high handed, and best of all, you get to keep your job. No matter what.

I have been very busy with my real job over the last six weeks.  This seemed to coincide with a period of calm devoid of institutional idiocy at the expense of the Jewish Community.  I was especially delighted to read the August 5 editorial from the Jewish News which pointedly took up issues I have been writing about for most of the summer.  From their article:

“Where did that money go?” he asked at the time. “The answer is, ‘It went out into the community.'”

It’s a disarming statement – you can’t argue with pumping money back into the community – but concrete examples of what was funded in lieu of balancing the budget would give the statement some substance – not to mention inspiring confidence in the federation at a time when its relevancy is being re-examined. The time for transparency is now.

Silver took federation town halls on the road last summer to the far corners of our Valley in an attempt to engage more community members in the federation’s decision-making process, and although tumbleweeds weren’t exactly blowing through the venues, the attendance didn’t set any records.

Clear answers might help. For instance, did operation and management costs of the Ina Levine Jewish Community Center divert resources that could have addressed the needs of the most vulnerable in our community? The federation circumspectly acknowledged the issue in its May 25 Jewish Community Update (“Solar energy, endowment key to association’s future,” Jewish News, June 3).

Leaders at the event, which drew fewer than 50 community members, said that campus costs had been a financial drag on its tenants, not to mention its federation landlord. They said that establishing an endowment to fund those costs was a job left undone when the campus was built and they were seeking to rectify that.

Federation leaders of the past may have had their hearts in the right place when they took on the debts that led to its financial issues. It’s just that whether your heart’s in the right place or not, bills will come due.

I was actually hoping there would be nothing to write about and that I could give this a rest, but hope is not a plan, and so when I opened the pages of the Jewish News this past week, I received a new gift that will keep giving: The saga of the East Valley JCC.

Here is what I know about this place: basically nothing.  I have never seen it and do not know where it is, and judging from their abysmal drop in services revenues over the last three years, I guess I am not alone in not knowing where it is.  So from what I can discern, this center of the East Valley Jewniverse was heavily supported by the Ron Barness Family.  Now, Mr. Barness, for whatever reason, is to being sued what Warren Buffet is to accumulating wealth, and now, apparently, a warrant has been issued for his arrest.  So, coincidentally, after the arrest warrant was publicized, the JCC of the East Valley removed Mr. Barness’ name from over the door and quit being the Barness Family East Valley JCC.  They are now the East Valley JCC.  So they have transitioned from a poorly run facility, named after a donor who is in obvious trouble, to just a poorly run facility.  As an aside, I think that whoever has the sign making concession for our Jewish service institutions must be making a killing in Phoenix with all the name changes that occur here.

So here is where the story gets more interesting, at least for me.  According to the Jewish News, the East Valley JCC’s President, a Mr. Steve Tepper, (Click here for article) would not give a reason for the name change, and when he was specifically asked whether or not the Barness Family paid their pledges, Mr. Tepper replied: “We do not release the financial records of the JCC or its donors.”  So, another high handed statement from a leader of a community institution, and a statement that is completely untrue.  Like all 501c3’s not attached to a house of worship, the East Valley JCC files an IRS 990 form that is available for inquiring minds that gives a pretty detailed look at their financial operations (download 2007, 2008, and 2009 filings here).

Maybe Mr. Tepper did not know how to say the following in response to the question about the Barness Family:  “For many years the Barness Family supported the JCC very generously.  However, in view of the recent and persistently pejorative publicity surrounding Mr. Barness’ business affairs, we felt that it was detrimental to the success of the East Valley JCC to continue to associate this center with the Barness name.” Instead, he gave a patently false answer about not disclosing financial information about the JCC to the public, probably hoping no one would look into his stewardship, and took the heavy handed approach that is the gold standard for answering questions about financial transparency for Jewish service institutions in the greater Phoenix Jewish Community.  So Mr. Tepper, how about a few questions?

  1. The revenues of your JCC have decreased almost 35% in the last three years. The center is doing much less business, but your salary went from $110,072.00 to $116,716.00.  How does that happen?  
  2. Were you given a bonus for running the place into a ditch?  Your salary is approaching 10% of all the money your JCC collects, if the trend continues,  by the time the place closes, you could be earning close to a quarter of a million dollars per year.  
That’s a lot of lipstick for a pig, especially in this heat.

Breaking News: PARDES FINDS ADDITIONAL $1.3 MILLION

……. of debt.

When ipods first came out, I bought one for one of my sons.  About eight months later, I came home and my son was unwrapping a new iPod from its box.  He told me that his old iPod no longer worked and he ordered a new one.  So, I asked him for the old one so I could take it to the store and have it replaced and he said, “well, actually, I left it at school and someone stole it.”  So I was trying to think of a way to illustrate that he had lied to me, and after taking him to Guantanamo for water boarding sessions, which I explained to him were not technically torture, I think he got the point.

I have been wanting to try to move beyond the image that enters my mind when I think of the Pardes Board: that of a small child with his tongue stuck on a frozen pole in the dead of winter, but their plans to merge is the gift that just keeps giving, so I am having trouble getting my research done on the Federation.

Regrettably, my fear is so great that the current board leadership of the Jess Schwartz Abyss will somehow find a home at Pardes, that I can not let it go.  Now I have had two Board Members assure me that this is a complete takeover of JSA and that the only reason to even consider the name change is to help the JSA donors save face.  I have no reason to doubt these two Board Members, however, I do not understand why a change in tefillah, and why bringing in a Conservative Rabbi to lead this change, is needed if it is a wholesale takeover by Pardes.  So before I can look more at the Federation, I do want to address a very big lie told to our faces by those stalwarts of integrity, the JSA Board.

THE $1.3 MILLION

I don’t know how many of you attended the June 1 “Town Hall” meeting at Jess Schwartz, but I seem to recall Mitchell Ginsberg explaining to us that the Jess Schwartz Campus only has a $1.7 million dollar mortgage attached to it and that anyone who knows real estate (which would exclude me) would know that the campus is “worth many, many, multiples of $1.7 million dollars.”  This was part of the basis for the rationale of the merger (i.e. Pardes has a great operation and a bad mortgage, and JSA has a bad operation and a great building).  However, what the Mitchster neglected to tell us is that there is an unsecured note on the school for an additional $1.3 million dollars that is owed to the Levine Foundation.  This means that the debt owed by the school is $3,000,000, not $1,700,000.   For a copy of this unsecured note, which is an additional burden on a combined Pardes/JSA school, click here.  I think it is safe to assume that Mitch was a little light on the integrity here.  It is unfathomable to me that the Board of Pardes could have known that we would be told such a boldface lie by the Board of Jess Schwartz Academy, but they know this now.  I have no idea why Becky Lieberman is quoted in yesterday’s Jewish News that the merger with JSA is still moving forward.  I do not understand the basic need for Pardes to want to wallow in this type of filth.  It is not possible that the Mitchster did not know about the note, it is highlighted on the very tax returns for the school which bear his signature.  Beyond being stunned, we should be saddened and outraged.  Clearly now, this is just idiocy to want to merge as the additional debt makes a merger simply nonsense.  Maybe the Mitchster thinks it is not real debt because it is unsecured and he plans on rubbing the Levine Foundationn’s nose in it?

Every day that Pardes continues forward with the concept of this merger, they get a little filthier from associating with these people, and inch by inch, they destroy the credibility that they have painstakingly attempted to create with their school.  I just do not get it.

I have many other questions that really merit answers:

What happened to the money that was donated to the capital campaign to help JSA build a high school?Where did that money go?  What was it used for?  Was it returned to the donors?

This is a short post.  For once, I have nothing sarcastic to add to behavior I find incredibly repulsive, dishonest, and heartbreaking.

UPDATED Q&A FROM PARDES JULY 1, 2011

Updated Pardes JSA Community Day School Questions & Answers

7.1.11

On Tuesday Night’s Town Hall Meeting of June 1, 2011, we expressed our desire to provide you, theparents of Pardes JSA Community Day School, with as much information as possible. This information was sent home as a document to all of our parents on June 1, 2011. So many things have changed, that I thought that we would send home a new, updated FAQ, but because I am on vacation through the 5th, I have just crossed out things that are no longer relevant and added the new items and commentary in italics. Please bear with me as we strive to get you this new information. It is our goal to provide you with as much information as we can the information that we want to disclose to you. We think the more you know we are able to tell you what about what we want you to know, the more you will share our excitement for what the future holds for our school.

Thank you to all the parents who provided questions, and by the way, asking the parents to write down the questions on the 3 x 5 cards in advance was an excellent way of quashing dissent, which is key when announcing a decision that is going to get everyone crazy. Thank you to Mitch G for that good suggestion. We tried to answer as many as possible of the banal questions that we could during the Town Hall and below you’ll find a recap of those answers; as well as a few more questions and answers that we weren’t able to get to that night. We have also included some questions brought up during the Friday, May 27, educational program meeting.

We appreciate the interest and concern expressed by our parents and the broader community. As you can appreciate, this is a complicated and important undertaking because we are rolling the dice with the future of Pardes, especially by hitching our wagon to JSA’s but isn’t everything in life a gamble? We have done soul searching, thought about the merger for hours, and sometimes, just for a few minutes, and some of our board members even went to the center of Phoenix’s Jewniverse for guidance: The VOS – JCC. And after emerging from their Jewish Triathalon (shave, shower, schvitz), which they used to clear their heads, they cast their votes to merge. We hope our gamble will be one that we hope reaps benefits for generations to come. We appreciate some of your questions and your patience as we work to get accurate information out as quickly as possible.

If you have additional questions after reading the this new Q&A, please contact Jill Kessler at

480.991.9141 or jkessler@pardesschool.org.

Questions & Answers

Q. Why are Pardes and Jess Schwartz Academy consolidating?

A. We have always sought to provide the highest level of Jewish and secular education in a school that is financially stable and has the ability to grow. Because it is our long standing policy to hide behind our IRS exemption that we obtained when we were part of Temple Solel, we can assure you only that we are not financially stable. Think of us as Francium-223, a very unstable element.

As the Pardes JSA Community Day School, with our combined resources, we are now better positioned to do each of these things. I totally made that previous sentence up. We have no idea what the combined resources are of the two schools and we never did. However, when you get caught up in merger frenzy, sometimes you just have to write things down that sound smart. We are now, more than ever, well positioned to attract the most talented teachers, pursue additional local and national philanthropy, and create best practices among the national Jewish Day School community. I made this sentence up too. Everyone has told me about all this money floating around out there, but truthfully, I have no idea where it is or where it will come from. I actually read that blog post about PEJE and RAVSAK, so unless they cut their salaries at those places, it won’t be coming from them. So basically, we don’t even know if we can merge the schools and we have to find a way to convince our lender, to swallow a big loss. This is where JSA comes in: They are very good at creating big losses and trying to explain them. I am hoping the Mitchster will work some default magic on our lender and threaten them the way he threatened us with that verkachta Hebrew Language Charter School.

We hope this consolidation will not only improve the quality of our school; it will help reduce some the division and fragmentation in the broader Valley Jewish community. This is because I saw a documentary about the Rodney King Beating and I remember crying when he got out of the car and said, “Can’t we all just get along.?”

Q. Where will the school be located?

A. The school will be on either the current Pardes or JSA campus for the coming school year. We will announce on Friday, June 3, the location for 2011-12 year. For the 2012-13 year, if we are still in business and beyond, we hope to be located on at the center of the Jewniverse, the the JSA campus. I know, I know, I know, quit reminding me that they are in default and that by the time we wake up it might be occupied by some fundamentalist sect of christians, but don’t worry, we have a plan.

Q. Why would we consider moving from the current Pardes location?

A. We have the wonderful challenge of not having enough space. The JSA campus offers us the opportunity to physically grow our school. Our hope is to build a grade 6-12 school on the adjacent lot. The move to the JSA campus also will allow us to take advantage of the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center campus, with its outstanding athletic, library, arts and drama facilities. The campus already is acentral point of the Valley’s Jewish community. The presence of our day school will only amplify that sense of community. We had a wonderful challenge of being pressured by men who have run the Federation into the ground and also men who presided over the destruction of King David and JSA. And I don’t know if you noticed this, but when Mitch was talking at the Town Hall Meeting, his lips were not moving. I can not tell you how scary that is when he does that right in front of you, but I saw five minutes of that in our meeting and I was scared to death and I said, “I’m all in.” The fact of the matter is that the present JSA Campus is only able to hold 250 students, so we would actually be in a worse position if we moved there but I will be the first to tell you I am an educator, not an accountant. Now there is a lot of speculation that the VOS JCC is in dissarray, but I think once they get the solar panels installed, that will really help and probably even put the whole Federation back in the black.

Q. What is the name of the newly consolidated school?

A. Until further notice, we are the Pardes JSA Community Day School for the Unification of Phoenix Jews and the Greater Good of Humanity Next Year in Jerusalem Academy of Learning., or Pardes for short. We will let you know as soon as a permanent, new name is decided.

Q. The May 27 Jewish News of Greater Phoenix headline stated, “Merged school announces name.” Is Pardes JSA Community Day School our official, permanent name?

A. No. It was a misprint. Don’t believe everything you read. Focus on that last thing someone told you. That is how we operate the Board and so far, so good. Pardes JSA Community Day School for the Unification of Phoenix Jews and the Greater Good of Humanity Next Year in Jerusalem Academy of Learning is only our interim name. There will be extensive no additional discussion before a permanent name is determined because we will just do whatever Mitch and the wise Federation geniuses tell us to do. Please get off my back about this..

Q. Pardes has moved four times, but has always remained Pardes. So, why are we changing our name this time?

A. In the past, we were a single entity changing locations. This time is different. We have truly become a community day school and our name should show that evolution. Big secret: The merger is just an intention to merge. We did not want to tell you all that we wanted to merge because the last time we tried this stunt, I almost got killed up there on stage. So the Board came up with this intention to merge language and we almost fooled you all, except that Jess Schwartz is now caught up in litigation and a bunch of kids are heading to Phoenix Hebrew Academy because our religious program is Jewish Lite.

Q. There are a lot of people out there sharing information. Who should we believe?

A. We understand there is a lot of information and misinformation making the rounds in our community. All messages will come through Jill Kessler, the head of our school. I know that people are reading that stupid blog that Greenburg writes, but that guy does not even have a kid in the school. As the former President of the JTO said, Greenburg’s questioning is antithetical to the well being of the Jewish Community of Jews taking care of other Jews. When I read the disparaging comments that he writes about the the Federation Health and Fitness Club, I feel sick. What is a better example of Jews taking care of Jews than the Federation overseeing and supporting our needs for a good place to work out? This is just the point: the vulnerable populations of Phoenix Jews, whose money was cut to support the Health Club, have so many other issues to contend with that working out is not even a priority for them, it is just not on their radar. Anyway, if it does not come from me, after being written by Mitch, don’t believe it.

Today we announced our new Director of Admissions and we will send an email regarding the decision on a location for the 2011-12 school year on June 3.

Q. Who are the Pardes JSA Community Day School Board members?

A. The Pardes Committee on Trustees already has chosen the Board for 2011-12 – comprised of community members, rabbinic representation and parents. The Committee on Trustees determines the composition of the Board – identifying, recruiting and proposing new trustees. The Committee on Trustees also facilitates the Board’s self-assessment; plans for leadership succession; and plans for trustee professional development through orientation, training and ongoing education. In an attempt to ease the assimilation and integration of the two schools, the Committee on Trustees will meet during the summer to make possible additions or changes to the school board to include JSA and more representation from the community. We have purposely omitted the names of the three remaining trustees of JSA so that everyone does not get crazy about their involvement in the merged school. Their names will be added to the list later after we have collected your tuition.

Current board members for 2011-12 include:

Jeff Greenberg, President

Nancy Koplow, Vice President

Sue Adatto

Jon Brodsky

Rabbi Mari Chernow

Ruth Khalsa

Steve Lee

Sherman Minkoff

Jennifer Rawicz

Stacey Schwartz

Sid Spector

Jill Stein

Berry Sweet

Scott Wallace

Gail Zucker

Becky Lieberman, Immediate Past President

Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, Founding Head

Q. Will the faculty change?

A. Other than the changes already announced by Jill Kessler on May 6, the Pardes faculty will remain the same. Specifically announced in that letter, four teachers from JSA will join Pardes JSA Community Day School: Melinda Berko, 4th grade; Errol Rafal, middle school math and science; Kyoko Krumwiede, middle school math; Yona Weitzner, lower school Jewish studies and Hebrew. Additional JSA faculty may be hired as well. Psych! Not really. We won’t even have the kids we thought we would have, so we are not going to hire anyone else. Plus, the remaining teachers are a wee bit disenfranchised because the leadership at JSA has figured out away to try to deny the teachers access to Cobra Health Care, so they are not a really happy bunch.

Q. Currently, how many JSA and Pardes students are enrolled for next year?

A. As of today, there are 54 JSA some JSA kids and 270 Pardes students.

Q. Will class sizes change?

A. Our student/teacher ratios will not change. If we move to the JSA campus, we will have two kindergarten classes with 15-18 children and two teachers per class. There will be an aide who floats on a wire between the two classes. First through eighth grades will limit class size to 18 children and one teacher.

Q. Will the school calendar change?

A. The 2011-12 calendar is posted on the Pardes website. This was a snarky answer, sorry.

Q. What are the school hours?

A. If we remain o On the Pardes campus, the times will not change. The middle school will start at 8:15 a.m. and the lower school will start at 8:30 a.m. School will end at 3:15 p.m. If we move to the JSA campus, both schools will start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.

Q. Will the students wear uniforms?

A. No.

Q. When do you expect to start a high school?

A. It is premature to have this discussion now, but it remains our ultimate goal to bring a Jewish high school back to our community. The decision is dependent on a number of factors, including a robust middle school, critical mass and finances. Was this a trick question?

Q. What is the denomination of Pardes JSA Community Day School?

A. Currently the Pardes student body comes from families that self-identify as: 44% Reform; 40% Conservative and Modern Orthodox; or some other Jewish movement. Our school always has been open to the community and will continue to be so as the Pardes JSA Community Day School. O.K. Busted! This was a totally made up answer. Pardes is a Reform Jewish Day School. However, by skewing these numbers to point towards a plural student body, we thought it would be an easier sell.

Q. Is it true that Pardes was looking at evaluating our current approach to t’fillah before talks of the consolidation?

A. Yes, Jill Kessler and the Leadership Team are always looking at new and creative ways to enhance the prayer component of our school. To do so, we have created a Think Tank to discuss possible improvements to t’fillah. No, but after we were threatened with the Hebrew Language Charter School we had to do something. Here is a little known fact: the first application to become a Hebrew Language Charter School for JSA was never approved, so all of the talk about waiting to submit their application in May was an outright lie. An application for this verkachta Hebrew Language Charter School was formally submitted in May 2010, but never made it out of the AZ Departent of Educations’s review because it was so incomplete. I know it is not that big of a lie, so forget about it. Anyway, after we were threatened, Our Judaics department began conversations with Rabbi Elana Kanter, whose leadership at the failed school of JSA, as director of Curriculum, was so successful, that we said, “let’s get the director of a school that just failed to design our religious curriculum.” I’m sure you see the wisdom in that. We are very fortunate to have that we have Rabbi Kanter as part of our Judaics team because really, those Reform Rabbis don’t know Jack about Hebrew. I heard the parents from JSA saying that they went to a Reform Bar Mitzvah and that they say a Reform Torah and that the english transliterations were written between the lines of Hebrew. However, Rabbi Kanter has an extensive background in teaching, curriculum development, and coaching softball both on a local and national level.

Rabbi Elana Kanter already outlined the three areas of focus for t’fillah:

1. Knowledge – history of Jewish prayer

2. Skills – mechanics and fluency of prayer

3. Behavior – making prayer joyful (an intense study will be done in Rastafarian Prayer Methodology taking advantage of the newly passed cannabis laws in Arizona. Many people feel that the supplementation of prayer when infused with Tetrahydro Canibinol can enhance one’s closeness to Y-hweh. I and I vibration yeah! Positive

We will include rabbinic representation from the Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox communities. We also are looking at best practices at other day schools around the country. Our hope is to create our own siddur that will embrace the multi-denominational makeup of our school. Our overriding philosophy has always been that we want our students to be comfortable and literate at any Conservative and Orthodox synagogue.

Q. Will you still invite rabbis from across all denominations to lead Parashat HaShavuah?

A. Yes. No. We hope to have representation from all the synagogues in the Valley that are approved in advance by Mitch.

Q. What kind of melodies do you use during t’fillah?

A. We will use a mix of Reform and Conservative melodies. As mentioned above, Pardes is already a fusion of students from Reform, Conservative and other families and we will continue to evaluate our Judaics program to address the consolidation and needs of parents from both schools. really a devotee to the melodies of Debbie Friedman, Lady Gaga, and the BEP, so we will probably be ditching them for the melodies of Michael Rosenzweig, Joseph Shabalala, and Cromwell Everson. There are a lot of other South African Composers out there and I am sure more will be incorporated as we familiarize ourselves with the material.

Q. Will there be changes to the Judaics program?

A. The frequency of Judaics and Hebrew will be as follows:

Judaics:

Kindergarten, first and second grades – two days a week

All other grades – three days a week

Hebrew:

Kindergarten – three days a week

All other grades – daily

There may be changes to the curriculum based on the findings of the Think Tank Mitch.

Q. Will the JSA teachers and students be trained in Hineni, the anti-bullying program?

A. Yes. By the Board of JSA. Who better to explain bullying? All incoming students and teachers receive Hineni training.

Q. Will lunches need to be kosher?

A. Lunches from home will remain “kosher style.” This means no pork and shellfish. The Pardes campus has a kosher kitchen supervised by the Vaad. If we remain on this campus, students still will have the option to purchase kosher lunches next year. One of our goals for the new campus will be creating a kosher kitchen. Until the kitchen can be added, we are in talks with the JCC to have the Federation build a monorail between the campuses to ferry our children to lunch to use its kosher kitchen. However, the Federation has publicly stated that they will undertake no plans that divert its attention from their commitment to run the finest solar powered health club in the nation, so at this point, the monorail is just a dream

Q. Is there a new kippot policy?

A. Our kippot policy will remain the same – it’s the choice of each boy or girl to decide whether or not to wear a kippah throughout the day. Boys are required to wear kippot during t’fillah and JSA has a staple gun they use to affix the kippot to the head of each male child.

Q. Will the curriculum change?

A. We’ve found during our meetings that there are many similarities with our curriculum. By incorporating the JSA teachers mentioned above, we will be able to take the best practices from both schools and enhance our current curriculum. Because there was nothing at JSA that one could actually call a best practice, including the state yanking their ability to administer the AIMS testing for 2011-2012 due to numerous violations in how the test was administered, we will have to go with Pardes’s curriculum until Pardes is threatened into changing.

Q. Are other languages taught besides Hebrew?

A. Yes. Spanish is taught in middle school. Another benefit of this consolidation, and the combined resources, is the ability in the future to add more languages to our class offerings. The board of JSA has sought, as a condition of the merger that we add the follwing languages Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.

Q. What about the fine arts?

A. We have a strong interest in cultivating the fine arts curriculum at Pardes JSA Community Day School for the Unification of Phoenix Jews and the Greater Good of Humanity Next Year in Jerusalem Academy of Learning. Last year, we had the pleasure of welcoming Joanne Edelmann from The Stella Adler Acting Studio in New York. We hope that she will be the first of many artists to visit our school each year.

Currently, we offer classes in art and music. We also offer after-school enrichment classes in art, dance and drama. As with many schools, we are limited by our operating budget. The advantage of consolidating the two schools is that more critical mass = more tuition = more curriculum offerings. Because we have been diverted by the nonsense of the merger, we have not sought out partnerships with the many different arts agencies and the world-class School of Music at ASU so that we can efficiently provide these opportunities. I’m telling you his lips were not moving the whole time, and if I was not so scared, I would get cracking on this stuff.

Q. Is there an endowment in the works?

A. Not yet, but despite the readily available expertise of the JCF here in Phoenix and offers from other members of the Pardes Community to underwrite the creation of the endowment corporation, we have repetitively shied away from creating one. An endowment would not allow us the flexibility to run the school financially from the seat of our pants. As with all similar nonprofit institutions, the financial sustainability of our school depends upon developing an endowment. Our two schools have experienced splintering from donors, financial mismanagement at JSA that destroyed the school, and pressure from morons running our Federation who have nothing to give us financially, so and now, as one entity, we hope to attract substantial local and national donors. Additionally, we have plans to cut an album which we think will raise substantial funding and we also have the earnings from our own brand of coffee.

Q. How do you expect to pay for the short-term transition expenses?

A. There are considerable costs associated with this consolidation. At first, we thought that we could make up the shortfall by shafting our current lender, but they are not that stupid. We were then going to use the reserve fund from JSA, but that is going to litigation defense, so we have no idea what we were even thinking, let alone what we might be thinking. This was a good question though and thanks for asking. These include, but are not limited to: facilities expenses, covering promised scholarships and absorbing additional faculty. We are developing plans to offset those costs. A significant amount has already been raised from community donors. I can not announce the amount of money that was raised by community donors because it was actually not really raised really, if you know what I mean.

Q. Will already awarded JSA scholarships be honored?

A. Financial aid is a confidential matter between all families and the school administration. Letters to the JSA parents are forthcoming regarding the scholarships for the 2011-12 school year and the application process that will be used moving forward.

There are many areas of consolidating the JSA families with practices of Pardes administration. This one-year transition will require additional funding in many areas, and the school leadership is ensuring that all additional expenditures required as a result of the consolidation are fully funded by incremental revenues as well ascommunity support. At present, we are dragging our feet in getting back to parents about our funding commitment. Until further notice, the dragging of feet is our official policy.

Q. Will JSA and Pardes parents pay the same tuition for the 2011-12 school year?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you eventually expect an increase in tuition?

A. Best practices in the educational industry have indicated that modest annual tuition increases, to cover increased costs such as faculty raises, are the most effective approach in ensuring the long-term financial health of a school. We expect to continue that approach. Because some of us were enhancing our prayer with Rastafarian Methodology, the potential tuition implications of a change in campus or the school’s debt structure are unknown, though our goal is to develop a plan that ensures no dramatic tuition increases are necessary. One plan that has been spoken about at great length would be to utilize the west end of the large sports field and create a greenhouse that could be used for the growing of Medical Marijuana. Some of us are enrolled in classes in Colorado so that we fully understand the ramifications and demands of creating high quality reagent grade herb for lawful medical purposes.

Q. Will the synagogue affiliation discount continue in the future?

A. Yes. The amount of the discount is evaluated each year, and the same consultants from the Bellagio who helped us with our merger plans will be back again to figure out the discount as part of the tuition-setting process for the next school year.

Q. When will class assignments be announced?

A. This remains unchanged. Class assignments will go out in the mail in mid-July.

Q. What will happen to all the beautiful art projects located around the Pardes campus if we move?

A. Many of the art projects will be moved to the new campus at the time of a move. Realistically, though, some of the things the kids have done are so awful that it pains me to see them every day. Don’t we have one donor in the community who has some nice art? Just kidding.

Q. Will there be campus tours available?

A. Yes.

Q. We were told Pardes students should wear a school logo shirt on Fridays. What logo shirt should they wear?

A. We will have a new shirt designed for our students to wear on Fridays. We hope our eighth grade students will create the design. Otherwise, students may continue to wear either their Pardes or JSA logo shirts.

As soon as we know more, we will fill you in.

Shalom.


Jess Schwartz Academy Sued for Fraud! Another Bright Spot for Pardes’ Fiancée

I am more than disappointed that I can not turn my attention to the infinite cesspool that passes for our Federation Health and Fitness Corporation.  I have been a busy guy grabbing up VOS JCC and Federation documents and tax returns and believe it or not, I am just overwhelmed at the extent of what has transpired there.  Really, I think that I am just about burned out because I think I would need a staff of ten full time people just to catalog their idiocy.  Unfortunately, I have to save that for future posts because the word of the day is that Jess Schwartz Academy just got sued for fraud. (click for complaint)

What is noticeable about the lawsuit is that the attorney who filed it is a very sober gentleman, a very skilled litigator with an excellent reputation.  He is not a gentleman who would waste time on a spurious claim. Number two, Fraud is the most difficult tort to prove, the damages from Fraud are not dischargeable under bankruptcy, and I bet you can count on a match stick the number of private non-profit schools in the United States that have a Fraud claim pending against them.

Again, a complete disgrace for the managers of the Jess Schwartz Abyss, and a complete disgrace for the Pardes Board for abrogating their responsibility to the school, to the Pardes Parents, and drinking the Cool Aid that was poured by the imitation tzadikkim who fancy themselves community leaders.  Why on earth would anyone running a school want to merge it with the detritus of JSA?  When you lie down with a dog, you wake up with fleas.

I really like and have friendships with many people on the Board of Pardes, and I think Jill Kessler is one of the finest and most caring educators in the country, but I am so angry at their collective stupidity as regards this merger.  This lawsuit will be settled, or it will go to trial, and it will cost JSA quite a bit of money, and any thought the bank will be okay with having the school sit empty, and that they will not foreclose, is going to vanish faster than a twinkie at a fat farm. Because realistically, the reserve funds that they were going to use to pay the mortgage are going to be devoted to litigation.

So there will be two options here: 1) Someone with a fat wallet will bail the school out and settle the case because they will not want their precious monument to themselves seized, sold at auction, and occupied by a non-Jewish enterprise, like a parochial school, or 2) These same “community leaders” will lean on the Federation to fund the settlement of the lawsuit, and the Federation, as is their pattern and practice, will again renege on more funding commitments made to our vulnerable populations, and to Israel.

How about a quick apology from the Pardes Board to the Pardes community for putting everyone through the idiocy of the merger, then opening up the financial books so we can begin to better understand what challenges the school is facing so that we can help the school, and let’s just get on with it?

Or, in the alternative, please send out another FAQ and tell us if it will still be called Jess Schwartz Academy if a christian parochial school gets hold of the JSA campus.  Will it still be called JSA, Our Lady of JSA, the Virgin of Guadalupe JSA, The Academy of the Immaculate Conception of the JSA.  Oh and uh what tefillah goes best with a Hail Mary?

As my youngest used to say when he was about 5,

Huggety Geshpuggety.

A Ray of Sunshine – $110,000 Gift to Joplin from Jewish Synagogue from Phoenix

Before I embark on the next few posts, which will center on the Federation Health and Fitness Club of Phoenix, I wanted everyone to be aware of a really remarkable organization here in Phoenix: The Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix.

From their mission statement:

OUR MISSION

Sustained by our heritage, the Jewish Community Foundation strives to create a permanent legacy for a strong, vibrant, enduring Jewish community locally and abroad.

For nearly 40 years, the Jewish Community Foundation has been helping people support the Jewish and secular causes that are important to them. We provide resources to make the community’s vision a reality and we respond to emergencies facing the Jewish people. The Jewish Community Foundation is the largest resource for Jewish philanthropy in the Greater Phoenix area. We have earned the trust of our donors and the community of professional advisors – attorneys, estate planners, trust officers, insurance professionals, accountants and financial advisors – who work with us to help donors achieve their charitable and financial goals.

This is the Crown Jewel of financial performance and propriety of our community.  They manage more than $41,000,000.00 worth of highly liquid assets, their organization dots every “i”  and crosses every “t”, and because their Board of Directors is filled with professionals, and not the interlocking nest of cronies that infects our Jewish Federation, they do not do stupid things with the community’s trust.  They are not a monument to themselves, and they are the only possible foundation for our future.  So, for those of you who really are able to and want to support Jewish Philanthropy, and want to make sure your money is not wasted on running health clubs and mismanaged schools (where self dealing is the coin of the realm), I would urge you to review the Jewish Community Foundation and direct your giving there.

The Synagogues of The Reform Community, while having had some vicissitudes, are very well run in the areas of financial disclosure and propriety, and they have been strengthened by good Boards of Directors and Rabbi’s who understand their core mission to their congregations.  These are also excellent places to support.  I know that one of our congregations, without fanfare and with great modesty, made a $100,000 donation to the city of Joplin to help with Tornado relief, and also made a further donation to help the Jewish Community of that tornado devastated city.

It is great to be able to admire what is best about our community.

DEFAULT: Mitch Ginsberg Knew What Pardes’s Board Did Not, or Why He Rushed the Merger

AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST THERE IS A POSTSCRIPT WHICH WAS ADDED ON 6-25-11.

I think if you have an IQ over 80 and you are a Pardes Parent, you are probably concerned about the postponed, or delayed, merger of Pardes and Jess Schwartz Academy. There are several questions that immediately come to the fore regarding this merger, which the stewards of our trust on both school’s boards attempted to pull off quicker than a prom dress.

1)  What was the mad rush all about? Surely Pardes would naturally end up with some of the remaining students from the defunct Jess Schwartz Academy.

2) Why merge, change the school’s religious affiliation to become Pluralistic, and change campuses?  All of these things were announced to us loyal Pardes Party Members by Comrade Ginsberg at that meeting of the JSA Supreme Soviet.

3) Why was the merger forced on Pardes?  Why was Pardes faced with the threat of alleged competition from a Hebrew Language Charter School that zero community support from any Rabbi, nor even our terribly mismanaged Federation?

4) Why was JSA’s management so intent on having their building occupied one year after their ill-conceibed merger with King David destroyed their own school and King David?  Why would anyone think that Reform Jews would support a Hebrew Language Charter school, and rush their kids out of Pardes?

Category:  I’ll take Mitch Ginsberg for a hundred, please.

Mr.Ginsberg is a mortgage banker, and I assume he is familiar with the mortgage that bears his signature as the Chairman of Jess Schwartz Academy. The mortgage on the Jess Schwartz campus is clear:

Surprise: Jess Schwartz Academy is in default of their mortgage. See the above paragraph on insolvency as a condition of default. Since the Trustor’s (JSA) existence as a going business has been terminated, the lender, J.P. Morgan/Chase, has the right to foreclose on the building. This is a very common clause in almost every commercial mortgage I have ever seen, because it is axiomatic that once a tenant or trustor ceases to occupy a commercial building, they will default. Statistically the lender knows that on average, a trustor will default on their payments within six months. If I have read the JSA financial statements correctly, they have a reserve fund that will allow them to make payments for just under two years on the mortgage, but they are in default if there is no school operating on the premise. The reserve fund is immaterial to the lender because the lender knows that the longer a building stays vacant, the less the building will bring at sale or at auction, so they will move to cut their losses. I do hope J.P. Morgan/Chase has been informed of JSA’s cessation even though I am not a shareholder of that bank. I am sure that the management of JSA has behaved ethically and informed J.P. Morgan/Chase that they are no longer an ongoing concern and that there is not a school operating in the building. Discard that last sentence, I just took the needle out of my arm.

Ta-da:  The JSA Board tried so hard to bully Pardes into defaulting on their campus and moving to JSA in order to save their precious building before it is taken from them. I am getting sick to my stomach again.

Why the Jewish News identifies Mitchell Ginsberg as the Jess Schwartz Academy Board Chairman, when the school is defunct, I will never know.  I am going to start signing my letters: Mark Greenburg, Board Chair of the Frank N. Stein Jewish Day School.   Like Mr. Ginsberg, I also have some vacant buildings with no students, so I guess that makes me an educator also.

More fun stuff about our Federation Health and Fitness Company in the next post.

THIS POSTSCRIPT WAS ADDED 6-11-25

PS – I have been asked why I have not pointed out the obvious issue of the ineptitude of the Pardes Board in this whole merger fiasco.  The answer to this is a bit more complex, and aside from some sick joy that I might feel from clubbing a baby seal, the fact of the matter is that I have been extremely critical of the Pardes Board over the issue of the merging the school with Jess Schwartz and I will continue to do so until Pardes calls off the merger once and for all and makes their financial information available to the general public.

I do not believe that the Pardes Board has ever acted in a manner that reflects mendacity, or that they have exhibited malice aforethought in an attempt to mislead the parents, or in any way have they ever done something that they did not believe was in the best interest of the school and the community.

I do believe however that they have exhibited incredibly poor judgement in certain instances (Pardes’ continued involvement with the JTO as example one, an organization whose misallocation of funding propped up JSA long past it’s life expectancy, allowing it to spread its mismanagement melanoma to King David, killing both schools in the process. The misallocated scholarship dollars could have been dollars allocated to Pardes Students which would have boosted enrollment and strengthened the school.  Instead, the Pardes Board has chosen to stay with the JTO because it is “good for the community”, a complete abrogation of their responsibility to the school) and in particular, with attempting to merge the school with JSA in haste, without parental approval, and choosing to do a merger with people as financially reckless, inept, and mendacious as the leadership of JSA.

That the board of Pardes was mislead and pressured by JSA’s leaders and our past Federation leaders, who have been responsible for the wreckage and disgrace that is our Federation, the JCC, and JSA, to merge is not surprising, nor is the fact that they buckled under pressure to do this merger surprising because people do not make good decisions when they are pressured, bullied or coerced.  So, this decision, as misguided as it was, is probably not entirely their fault.

It is certainly the case that these stalwarts of stupidity did not approach Pardes’ Board and say, “Hi there.  You know, we have built an unsustainable campus over at the JCC and even put JSA right next to it on adjacent land.  Unfortunately, even though the President of the JTO made sure that the Treasurer of JSA was the sole decision maker on the awarding of scholarships, so that we could continue to prop up JSA, we destroyed both our school and King David in the process.  Unfortunately, we are about to lose the buildings in foreclosure because they are not occupied, so could you help us out.?”  Instead, these “leaders” came to Pardes’s Board, proposed the merger, and backed it up with pseudo reasoning, including, but not limited to the imminent threat Pardes would face from a Hebrew Language Charter School, the miracle of Pluralism, the financial grants available from Ravsak and Peje, and the old reliable persuasion of doing the mensch-like thing for the community.  And the shame of the Pardes Board is that they bought into this vision hook, line, and sinker, seeing themselves as beacons of leadership for the Jews in Phoenix, alone in their ability to bridge divides, trading away what is right for Pardes for their new role as community leaders.  The Board of Pardes has no such mandate.  They are not the leaders of Phoenix’s Jews, they are just the Board of Pardes.

It is shocking that no one on Pardes’ Board had the courage to tell these “leaders” that their vision for the community has led to the ruination of the Federation, the JCC, JSA and King David and that their vision, continually resold like a line from Harold Hill in the Music Man, was not a vision that the Board could countenance.

I continue to be amazed that the fine example set by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix is not the model that all Jewish organizations in the valley follow.  Had the Schwartz’ given their money to the JCF, or had the Levine Foundation chosen the JCF as stewards of their generous gifts, the openness and integrity that is imbued in their operations and governance would have prevented this disaster from happening.

It is equally true that the purity of the misguided intentions that I ascribe to the Board of Pardes stand in stark contrast to the contempt I have for the self appointed community leaders like our Federation geniuses, JSA Board Members, and JTO Leaders who suppress debate and destroy our assets through their ineptitude, mendacity, and bullying.  These “leaders” will not make the Jewish Community more vibrant, larger, or more welcoming, and they have no place in leadership roles for our community.  Shame on all of us for not using our collective strength and financial power to speak out and withholding our funding until we get leaders who are open, forthright, and encouraging of debate.

The Greater Fool Theory, a Salute for Our Protection, and Winging It

Please indulge me for a moment and imagine you are a shareholder of Apple Computer and attending a shareholders’ meeting. Steven Jobs, Apple’s CEO, steps to the podium to announce that he is merging Apple with the shell company that used to manufacture the Commodore 64 Computer. The Commodore Company, in this example, is just the husk of a bankrupt company that ceased production in 1997. So the first question that is asked, is: “Where will the company be located? Then, “Will Apple absorb Commodore’s debt?”, and then of course, “Who will run this combined enterprise?” And the CEO of the company, answers every question with: “We are not really sure about what we are going to do, we are just going to wing it, that’s why this merger makes so much sense.”

Now, the person next to you in the meeting, turns to you and says, “I am sure you have a lot of anxiety about this because you have an investment in Apple, but what is important is that they are both computers, so, dude, Cowabunga and get on board!” I am guessing that you might question the mental health of the person next to you, their ability to think logically, and then assume they are a Greater Fool. The Greater Fool is a momentum junky, someone who thinks that the merger will work, that there will always be someone to sell their investment to. The problem with the Greater Fool Theory is that eventually, time runs out, and there is no one left to pick up the pieces, no one who is actually that foolish. Eventually, you run out of fools.

I imagine, as it applies to Pardes and Jess Schwartz Academy, there is now a shortage of fools. There are no longer major donors willing to step up, donate millions more to JSA, or buy into Mitch Ginsberg’s top down vision of Totalitarian Torah Teaching. By the way, Pardes’ FAQ identified board members who will be on the board of the merged school. Mitchell Ginsberg’s name was not identified as a board member of the new school, so why is he involved in making decisions about how the school is to be run in the future? Is it possible that Pardes has not been forthcoming about Mr. Ginsberg’s role in the future to ease anxiety due to his proven record of school destruction? Take a look at today’s Jewish News. The way I understand what has been written, is that Mitch Ginsberg is very involved in what will be happening in the future and how the two campuses are to be operated.

I am thrilled that the Jewish News reported that the Pardes Board Chair, Ms. Lieberman and the JSA Chair, Mr. Ginsberg would not tell the Jewish News the amounts of their outstanding mortgages. After all, we are not equipped as parents to comprehend the extremely secretive world of mortgages and debt, and we should thank them both for protecting us from this dangerous information. This very big secret about the amount of their mortgages can be found by visiting the Maricopa County Recorder’s office online and pulling copies of the mortgages. Click here for the Pardes Mortgage, click here for the JSA Mortgage. The mortgages are 4.8 million dollars and 1.608 million dollars, which equals about $6.4 million dollars. To board chairs Ms. Lieberman and Mr. Ginsberg: I salute you both for protecting us, keeping us from evil mortgage facts, helping us stay in the dark. We are your loyal mushrooms.

I know that I have never destroyed a school or blown through 3.5 million dollars of donated money and turned it into dust in a two year period, but if I may just offer a suggestion without overstepping: If it is really so important to merge schools, sell the JSA Campus, which apparently has an assessed value of $3.6 million dollars, and take the $2,000,000 balance and pay down the mortgage on Pardes’ current campus. Then, Pardes would not have to be a deadbeat and shaft their lender, and when Pardes could prove that they needed more space, they would be able to get financing to build a bigger school. Imagine the headlines: “Newly Merged Jewish Day School Acts with Integrity.”

In 2002, the Jewish Federation of Phoenix published a study entitled The 2002 Greater Phoenix Jewish Community Study. This study breaks down the community of Jews in Phoenix and asserts 44% of all Jewish Respondents identify as Reform Jews, 24% as Conservative, and 3% as Orthodox. So how is it that Pardes boasts a population that is so far out of line with the demographic report of 2002. I never got a survey from Pardes asking me about whether I am a Reform Jew, an Orthodox Jew or a Conservative Jew. I am a self described Reform Jew who puts on Tefillin in the morning and then grabs an Egg McMuffin on the way to Pardes to drop off my son. So if you want to tell everyone I am Orthodox because I put on Tefillin, knock yourself out, but I am guessing I fall short in piety and Orthodoxy. So, I think that Pardes, with lust in their hearts for that shiny new campus, has given us statistics that are shaped to make their decision to rush into the arms of Mr. Ginsberg seem like a good idea. What is truthiness if not a fabrication repeated endlessly until it sounds like and even becomes truth? Not to worry, with the money coming in from the grants from PEJE and RAVSAK, the school will be fine.

I think it was telling how the Jewish News inserted the quotations from the Executive Director of the Jewish Genetic Diseases Center Halle Farber, who is sending her daughter to Pardes and was quoted as saying:

“There’s an anxiety in waiting, that no one knows what the school is going to look like,” said Farber. “But I’m prepared to be patient because I have a lot of faith in the leadership and I also know it’s going to be a bumpy road. I don’t expect all the answers to come (by) September. I think it could take a year or more until we’ve figured out what the final picture is going to look like.

“At the end of the day, it’s about education. It’s not about if the kids are wearing kippot, if the kids are wearing uniforms or which campus they’re going to be on. … I don’t care about the trappings that come with it. I think it’s very foolish to get hung up on those kinds of details. People need to look at the big picture.”

I applaud Ms. Farber for speaking her mind. Huge on the “warm fuzzy”, short on the details, good about encouraging everyone to wing it and wait for a few years to see if it worked. By the way, if it is about the big picture, and not as Ms. Farber asserts, about those pesky little details like adding $1.6 million more dollars of mortgage debt to a financially struggling school, straddling two campuses and two mortgages, embracing the managerial wrecking crew that destroyed King David and JSA, and the magic of Pluralism, then what is it about? Maybe it is that same thrill a person of would get by taking their life savings and placing it on 27 red.