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Rising Taxes, Tuition Hit Private School Families

Parents hold a Thursday night roundtable.

When Elizabeth and Roger Rooney took their oldest daughter to see about services for a possible learning disability with local public schools, they weren’t happy with the reaction they got.

“We were treated like beggars,” Elizabeth Rogers said. “It was like we asked, ‘Please, sir, can I have another?’”

Their 12-year-old daughter’s problem is with spelling. Roger Rooney said that’s where the problem ends, though, as she can quite eloquently talk an ear off.

“We just have to get her a laptop or a text to speech,” he said.

Part of issue, Rooney said, could be because his daughter was born in China and started learning Chinese before moving to America when the Rooney’s, of Tarrytown, adopted her. They also adopted another daughter, Mari, 8, from China.

Because of the potential language and culture issues for a young child moving to a new country, the Rooney’s wanted their daughters to attend school in an environment where they could receive more individual attention. They opted for Transfiguration School, a Catholic school in Tarrytown.

“We felt smaller is better,” Roger Rooney said. “I don’t want to knock the public schools in Tarrytown, but we just wanted her in smaller classes. She has had around 20 kids in each of her classes since she started.”

Elizabeth Rooney added they wanted her to receive a religious education as well. But there’s another issue with sending their children to private religious schools: the cost. Families pay taxes for local public schools while also paying tuition costs for the private schools, and both prices have risen in recent years.

On Thursday, members from the Westchester Jewish and Catholic communities joined together at Solomon-Schechter School of Westchester in Hartsdale to voice their concerns and seek help at a roundtable discussion with local elected officials co-sponsored by the United Jewish Appeal Federation, Archdiocese of New York, New York State Catholic Conference, Orthodox Union and Jewish Education Project.

The Rooneys spoke before the roundtable discussion about their concerns moving forward and were joined by Jill and Steven Abusch, of White Plains, who have two daughters — Aviva, 16, and Ilana, 12 — who attend Schechter.

“We have to make the decision to enroll every year,” Steven Abusch said. “We have to think about what there is to be gained by studying at Solomon-Schechter.”

The Abusch’s run the Play Group Theater, a non-profit theater organization in White Plains for children and teens. Jill Abusch said in that Schechter has worked with parents who think they’ll have trouble meeting tuition costs to ensure their students can stay in the school.

“They try to make sure that families who want to be here can be here,” she said. “They’re 100 percent committed.”

However, that imposes a financial burden on the school, Steven Abusch said.

“Help has to come from somewhere,” he said. “They’re not just receiving a Jewish education here. The kids receive a well-rounded education. They talk all the same tests the state requires.”

Roger Rooney said if schools don’t start receiving help, more schools could close, leading to an influx of students back into the public school system all at once.

“At an open house last week we had 30 families come [to Transfiguration],” he said. “If all these families looking at private school and families already in private school all have to go back to public school, do you think they can handle all those kids joining at once?”

Recently, the Archdiocese of New York recommended the closing of 22 elementary schools in New York, including schools in Scarsdale, Peekskill, Valhalla and Yonkers in Westchester, as well as two more in Rockland County.

Racman63 February 04, 2013 at 12:23 PM
It's a parents' choice to send their children to private schools, but personally I am very much against the concept. As a tax payer I am against any idea of a voucher system to subsidize people who believe that the public school system isn't adequate for their children. Conservative politicians tout out the voucher plan every two years precisely to garner votes from people who send their children to religious private schools. If everyone sent their children to public schools then everyone would be invested in the success of their local schools. As for the expensive private day care schools, I have no pity whatsoever. These schools only serve to further create a two-tiered society where a few relatively privileged individuals get to circumvent the entire system simply by writing a check. It's your choice, but I certainly don't have to be for it.
lynn February 04, 2013 at 01:57 PM
I hope they get the aid they need for their children. If they feel their child is not getting what they need good for them for seeking alternatives and being involved in doing what is right for their kids.
Racman63 February 04, 2013 at 03:22 PM
As I read this story, "aid" for the children is not the issue. Public schools, by law, must provide educational services to EVERYONE regarless of age, race or disability. This story is really about cash strapped private schools, mostly religious, fishing around for tax payer money (i.e. vouchers/tax credits) to subsidize the cost of educating their children, including, but not limited to, special needs kids. (and I don't equate a child having difficulty with spelling with a special needs child, and that's probably why those parents received an unwelcome reception from the local public school) Did you notice the fear sentence? "Roger Rooney said if schools don’t start receiving help, more schools could close, leading to an influx of students back into the public school system all at once." This is a bad thing? Returning greater diversity in race and socio-economic class to our public schools is a great thing! And as for over-crowding: we do a bond issue, build more schools, expand/modernize present ones, hire union construction worker to build them, hire more union teachers to teach in them, and union custodians to maintain them etc. The financial problems of privately funded primary and secondary educational institutions have little to no bearing on the greater good of the many.

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