Financially strapped Orthodox Jewish day school trying to sell campus

Yeshivat Rambam plans to relocate

March 26, 2010|By Robbie Whelan

Facing financial difficulties, Yeshivat Rambam is trying to sell its Park Heights Avenue campus.

Officials at the Orthodox Jewish day school said Thursday the school would remain open through the end of the academic year, helped in part by short-term financing from the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. After this year, however, the school will have to relocate.

In a letter to parents this week, officials referred to "perennial rumors of insolvency" and said the sale of the campus at 6300 Park Heights Ave. was inevitable.

The school's "debt made cash flow very tight and negatively impacted mission execution," they wrote. "Much time and many resources were being diverted from building Rambam's future and were, instead, being used to finance past debt."

Neither school board members nor Associated officials would say how much debt Rambam is carrying, or give the value of a line of credit secured by The Associated.

But school finance chairman Meyer Shields said Thursday that selling the campus would be "the biggest step we can take to fix the issue."

Rambam bought 6300 Park Heights Ave. in 1998 from Har Sinai Congregation for $4 million. A recent assessment values the property at more than $5.2 million.

Shields said the school has an annual budget of about $5 million and enrollment has remained consistent for the past 10 years. The problem, he said, was a "history of overspending" and a decline in donations because of the financial downturn.

The school serves about 180 girls and 220 boys, mostly from the Orthodox Jewish community around Pikesville and Park Heights, from kindergarten though 12th grade. In 2008, it separated the genders and moved classes for male students to a nearby Jewish community center.

This move was meant to "broaden the appeal" of Rambam among the more traditionalist Orthodox community, according to Shields. As a result, however, the school lost 40 to 50 students from other families, and those students were replaced by younger students in the elementary education program, who pay less in tuition.The school might also be suffering from the success of its efforts to promote Israel, Shields said. About 60 Rambam families have moved to the Jewish state since the school was founded in 1991.

"[One] tenet of our school is in inculcating students with a positive impression of the State of Israel," Shields said. "It's a great thing, but it doesn't help with re-enrollment."

Associated President Marc B. Terrill called on the school to make changes.

"In working with Rambam, Associated leadership made a decision to offer immediate and short-term support," he said in a statement. "While we are helping alleviate problems in the near term, it is up to the Rambam leadership to make the bold and long-term decisions necessary for the school's future."

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