Park Heights Jewish school to close at end of academic year

Cash-strapped Yeshivat Rambam struggled with rising costs and shrinking contributor base

May 08, 2011|By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun

Yeshivat Rambam, the financially struggling modern Orthodox Jewish day school in Baltimore, announced Sunday night that it would be closing its doors at the end of the academic year.

The executive board informed parents and faculty of the June closing during two separate meetings.

"Like so many private and public schools today, Rambam has not and cannot escape the pain of tough economic conditions and the consequences of rising costs and stagnant or insufficient revenues from tuitions, contributions and grants," Meyer Shields, the newly elected board president, said in prepared remarks. "We very recently determined that there is no reasonable expectation of this institution being able to sustain operations into the future in a responsible financially sound manner."

Rumors had been circulating in the community that Rambam's demise was imminent, and late last week the school posted a notice on its website to dispel talk that the school would not complete the academic year.

Officials said classes will continue as normal for the rest of the school year and that Rambam is working on a plan to transition students to other schools. Rambam has 350 students in kindergarten through high school. Its enrollment dropped by about 50 in the past year. The board also has hired a counselor to help students, parents and faculty deal with the closing.

Yeshivat Rambam opened in September 1991 with 52 students in kindergarten through third grade. It continued to add grades each year, and in 2001 graduated its first senior class.

Rambam, with an annual budget of $4.2 million, has been dogged with money problems for years. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun last year, Shields, then the chairman of the finance committee, said Rambam's troubles stemmed from a "history of overspending" and a drop in donations when the economy turned south.

Rambam announced in January its plans to close its girls' and boys' high schools at the end of this academic year. The schools enrolled 100 students.

In an effort to raise money, the school said last year that it would sell its campus at 6300 Park Heights Ave., which it had purchased for $4 million in 1998.

Last month, Rambam completed a building swap with nearby Bnos Yisroel, a private Jewish girls school. Rambam then sold the Bnos building to a financing entity for $1 million. It also has a three-month option to find another buyer for the facility for a higher price and an opportunity to receive more money. The $1 million cash infusion wiped out Rambam's debt that accumulated over the years.

Shields said that board members explored every possible option, but the weak economy and the declining revenues and enrollment gave them no choice.

"The time came for facing reality and making tough decisions," he said.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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