THE community has this week been preparing for the possible closure of Yeshiva College, Bondi.
Parents have been enrolling their children at other schools after it failed to reopen last week because of a shortage of teachers. Kesser Torah College has sought emergency funding in case of an influx of students, and the NSW Board of Studies (BOS) is investigating if the college is meeting the requirements for registration as a school.
The AJN can also reveal this week that an independent report, which reviewed Yeshiva College’s bank account statements, cheque butts and other documentation, determined that some of the $467,500 given to the school as part of the Building the Education Revolution (BER) was not used for the correct purpose.
It determined that the accounts Yeshiva College provided to the Association of Independent Schools were not accurate.
Yeshiva stated it made a payment of more than $175,000 to a construction company, but the report found that the cost was not incurred or will never be incurred as the construction services detailed in the invoices were donated.
It found that Yeshiva appears to have breached the funding agreement in relation to the BER funding, and also recurrent funding, which is given to the school every year.
If the NSW and federal governments stop funds, it would cost the school more than $1 million a year and it would struggle to operate.
In a statement this week to The AJN, Yeshiva College spiritual dean Rabbi Pinchus Feldman said his legal team do not believe the school mis-used government funding and was confident the matter would be resolved.
Meanwhile, parents said they were outraged when they woke up last Wednesday morning to an email that stated students could not return to school last Thursday because the school didn’t have sufficient teachers to resume classes.
One parent told The AJN there is no excuse for telling parents a day before term starts. “Given 24 hours notice completely disregards the parents and for a school that’s so concerned about Jewish studies, to have kids waste time doing nothing is a disgrace,” the parent said.
The email included the phone numbers of the college’s teachers for private lessons, but warned parents to “call individual teachers regarding their fees”.
“Paying teachers directly is a joke and in no way addresses the concerns of parents. The school needs to be responsible and care about the kids. This suggests it’s out of control.”
A BOS spokesperson said they had not been informed by the college about the late return to school. “The email to parents will be assessed to determine whether there are implications for the board to pursue with the school in relation to the school meeting the requirements for registration under the Education Act,” the BOS spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that she didn’t want to pre-empt the BOS’s inquiries, but noted that they could find a school non-compliant.
Accounting for the delay in reopening, Rabbi Feldman said that because the syllabus has a great deal of Jewish content, with a number of staff members away, it was not possible to easily find teachers for term four
Classes did resume this week on Tuesday, but some parents had already decided that they needed to find a new school for their children.
More than a dozen students have applied to enrol at Kesser Torah College and it has sought emergency government funding in case Yeshiva College, Bondi, does not continue to operate and the school is faced with an influx of students.
JCA president Peter Philippsohn said his organisation is ready to help students that could be left without a school. “JCA stands ready to support, through its constituents, the absorption of students from any Jewish school which can no longer operate,” Philippsohn said. “In the case of Yeshiva College, I obviously hope that the school can survive through this tough time that it is currently going through, but there are communal resources ready to be used if it doesn’t.”
Rabbi Feldman said the school has not been informed that any students are leaving.
Yeshiva Centre dean and spiritual leader Rabbi Pinchus Feldman responded to questions from The AJN regarding this week’s article:
The teachers at Yeshiva College are rare and highly specialised individuals.
In addition, many have family overseas.
As a result, during breaks they often visit relatives and on this occasion, many of them unfortunately came back late.
Replacing them is very challenging.
Even if one could snap one’s fingers and get as many substitute teachers as one wanted at a regular school, it is doubly hard finding Yeshiva College substitutes because of the extent of the requirements upon our teachers.
There are the ethical needs – understanding our ethos and Jewish perspectives while teaching any subject.
Then, there are the curricular needs – teachers at Yeshiva need to understand a great deal of Jewish studies content, skills and knowledge before they can teach any subjects, due to our integrated syllabus.
English and science and HSIE in our syllabus are taught using some Jewish content.
A substitute teacher with scant knowledge about Judaism would not be able to properly meet our curriculum goals.
In order for school to start on time at the beginning of term 4, there were nine teachers to replace.
They were all replaced, but three major substitutes unfortunately backed out very close to start time.
Our governmental liaison officer Mrs Gavriella Aber called the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) for advice and guidance.
The AIS advises private schools on all matters of governmental compliance and due process.
The AIS assured us that the only Board of Studies compliance issue was whether Yeshiva is doing enough hours to call this year of studies a year of schooling.
Luckily, Yeshiva has school on Sundays and is open until 4.30pm most school days, so we are swimming in extra time.
The AIS confirmed to Mrs Aber that our letter informing parents of the delayed start of term 4 was appropriate.
As soon as we were advised that our Board of Studies obligations were all in order, we let the parents know of the delayed school start.
At this stage none of the parents have informed us of any decision to remove their children from our school.
In relation to the audit engaged by the government about the usage of BER funds by Yeshiva, we have already detailed to The AJN in the past as to why the funds were not spent in the required time.
Our legal team maintains that there was no misuse of funds by the college and the assumptions made in the report were incorrect and did not appropriately take into account our unique circumstances.
DEEWR (The relevant government department that gave us the BER grant) is aware of our legal position and has therefore agreed on a formal mediation to resolve the matter.
We are confident of an outcome that will be in the best interests of both DEEWR and Yeshiva College.
Rabbi Pinchus Feldman.