Sunday, November 30, 2008

Are SF private schools thriving in the downturn?

An article in The New York Times reports that private schools in Manhattan are thriving:

Wall Street is down, but the paddles were up, up, up at an auction at Cipriani this month that raised more than $500,000 for the Trevor Day School from parents and friends, off about 15 percent from last year’s record haul.

The day after the auction, Pam Clarke, Trevor’s head of school, sent out a letter reassuring parents that Trevor, a Manhattan private school with a relatively small endowment of $10.6 million, remained in “sound shape financially” because of careful spending and committed fund-raising. “We wanted to let people know that we’re concerned, we’re paying attention, and we’re careful with our resources and theirs,” Ms. Clarke said in an interview.

Dalton, Ethical Culture Fieldston, Packer Collegiate Institute and the Calhoun School have also sent out letters attesting to their financial health in recent weeks. At least three other private schools — Trinity, Columbia Grammar and Preparatory, and St. Ann’s — have issued similar letters, while other schools have relied on parent association meetings and word of mouth to get out the message that it is business as usual despite uncertain economic times.

“We’re not experiencing any signs of impact from the economic downturn,” said Steve Nelson, head of school at Calhoun, though he added, “That’s not to say that we won’t.”

Private schools across New York City say they are thriving this fall, with record numbers of applicants and no significant decline in donations. Yet almost daily, even brand-name schools are finding that they have to reassure jittery parents about shrinking endowments and dispel rumors that requests for financial aid are pouring in, and that economically squeezed families are pulling their children out and enrolling them in public schools.

Trinity’s interim head of school, Suellyn P. Scull, issued a letter taking issue with recent news reports that 45 families had given notice that they were leaving. Trinity, among the most competitive schools in the city, received 698 applications for the 60 kindergarten spots in this year’s class.

The school is not yet releasing admission numbers for next year’s class, but Ms. Scull wrote, “This year’s admissions season has been perhaps busier than usual, and to date we have had no reports of families planning to leave us.”

But the shrinking economy is taking a toll on investment returns at Trinity, whose endowment has fallen to $40 million from $50 million in July, and at other private schools, affecting what they can spend on programs and activities. “There’s no way of escaping it,” said Lawrence Buttenwieser, a former trustee at Dalton. “If it happens at Harvard, it will happen to everybody.”
So that's New York. Is this also the case in San Francisco?

28 comments:

  1. This is a tough comparison. New York and Wall Street has been hit much, much harder than the Bay Area, of which you can argue did no even experience much of a down-turn. So, no - I don't think there are very real parallels. I think it will be as competitive as ever for this years entering class.

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  2. My guess is that some of the schools' endowments are now somewhat smaller so financial aid may be more of a stretch.

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  3. Sheesh, who cares if the posh private schools are only raking in 40 million instead of 50 million?

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  4. The private school fundraising machines make me sick to my stomach. Our school system in this city is so third-world. There are the haves and have nots. The private schools are full of money and the public schools are scraping by. There's something wrong with this picture.

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  5. New York private schools have much bigger endowments than SF schools. The tutition is also several thousand dollars more per year.

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  6. While it may be true that tuition is more at some New York privates (certainly there are some equally expensive privates here in the Bay Area for sure), and they may have larger endowments (again, there are some privates in the Bay Area with large endowments as well), Wall Street was hit much harder than the Bay Area. Many more people were affected there. Very hard to draw parallels, as the economic landscape paints very different pictures.

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  7. tuition in NYC privates begin around 30,000

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  8. Private high schools here (Bay Area) are $30k plus, so what's the difference?

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  9. 30,000 for kinder is completely different

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  10. New York salaries are also much higher than in the Bay Area - so much for cost comparisons ..

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  11. 8:24 - The difference is that the tuition at most k-8 private schools in SF is in the $19-$22K range. Still a huge amount of money, but for the 9 years before high school you are paying around $10K less per year than you would in NY.

    It seems to me that the NY private schools, with the tutition and endowments they have, would have a very large cushion before they feel major effects.

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  12. Tuition in at the middle school level increases at some privates. Also, entry-level tuition at the very top privates can be around $22k, but often increases. Tuition at MCDS, for example, ranges from around $22k to over $25k.

    Another thing to consider is that wages are proportionately higher in New York than in SF. For example, $100k a year in SF buys much less than $100k a year in NY - so tuition in NY is really much less higher than it looks on paper vs SF.

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  13. That was a bad analogy - I think what I meant to say about the wages are that the cost of living is higher in New York - and wages are higher due to this increased cost of living. So, although on paper the tuition seems to be much more it really is not - as salaries and costs are higher than in San Francisco.

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  14. Actually - New York city has a 25% higher cost of living than San Francisco according to BankRate. CNN has NY at a whopping 30% higher cost of living.

    So, according to the above, the reality is that schools in SF are actually quite comparable.

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  15. Well at a recent town fundraising dinner wine was flowing and people were partying like it was 1929. One auction item went for something like 55k - private jet time.
    I think most endowments have taken a roughly 25% hit.

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  16. Town. High-income fancy-pantsy boy's school, as the $55k donation would indicate. ;-)

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  17. I think the economy will hit more at the parochial schools more than the private schools. That said, the more popular parochial schools won't be hit as hard as the less popular. It just might be a little easier to get a spot.

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  18. I'm sure you mean 'independents' vs 'parochials' - they are both privates.

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  19. A $55K auction bid is not the norm at most private schools in SF. It's pretty much just Town/Hamlin and possibly a few others where you would see that.

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  20. Yeah, but those are also the schools most likely to have financial aid money this year.

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  21. December 1, 2008 10:48 AM wrote: "Our school system in this city is so third-world."

    That is because most of the students in the SF public schools ARE FROM third world countries.

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  22. What exactly do you mean by "third world"? Is China's economy considered "third world"? That term somewhat loaded and not used so much in development circles any more. Also, many of our Asian and Latino kids, and most of our Filipino kids, were born here. I just don't think the statement that most of our kids are from the "third world" is an accurate statement.

    Is the comment merely about funding levels? Funding disparities between private and public schools (per child) *are* disgusting. We should be so ashamed that we as a society do not invest more in education. Hopefully, the new administration will begin to change that.

    That said, I wouldn't call our public school system in San Francisco "third world" at all, if what is meant is that it is really bad. My kids are getting a great education here. We have stellar teachers--there is no brain drain in the Bay Area--and we in SF have many other advantages over other large urban districts.

    The thing is, if you are supporting your kid's education at home, then he/she will do fine. I wish you could meet the many talented, bright, funny, San-Francisco-public-school educated high schoolers and middle schoolers I know. They are evidence that kids really can thrive in our "third world" (???) schools.

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  23. How many applications do the most popular co-ed private school receive for kindergarten? How about the single-sex schools? Do you think that applications will be at the same levels as last year? My sense is that people are applying to more schools these days.

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  24. This is just my opinion - I have two children already in a top private (MCDS). It seems that applications are actually up at MCDS. We seem to hear from a lot of people that they will go if they get admitted, but if not, they may opt for public (we have many friends who live in excellent school districts - ex. Mill Valley, Tiburon, Kentfield, etc), or some other lower cost choice.

    I believe that applications are up at MCDS - but at lesser tiered privates I would think that they would be down. People probably have the mentality that if they get into their 'dream' private then they would be willing to pony up, but if not, and if it's a financial stretch for them, they may opt for an excellent public. I have been hearing this quite a bit.

    We also have friends who have been opting for religious privates in the area. St Hilary in Tiburon, and St Patricks in Larkspur are very popular choices among some of our friends, as they are solid private choices, yet less expensive than the independents in the area.

    And of course, as I stated before, some are simply opting for public, as the schools in Mill Valley, Tiburon, and surrounding areas are pretty good.

    As you have probably guessed, this is coming from someone who lives in Southern Marin. Just sharing what we are seeing around us with our friends and acquaintances - without naming any names of course! I don't think it's unique to the area - it seems to be a pretty prevalent theme among people we talk to (and they include many San Francisco families as well).

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  25. December 13, 2008 10:40 AM - Do you not know the definition of "third world country?"

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  26. Dec 13, 10:40AM here....

    Um, I was pointing out that in the last three decades or so the term has fallen into disrepute among those who focus on economic and development issues in the Global South, and therefore has lost its seemingly "obvious" meaning. It's a wobbly and very loaded term.

    So when someone uses it to refer to our students in San Francisco, or to talk about our schools, I am suspicious. Sometimes people use the term "ghetto" the same way. It's used as a put-down, an excuse not to consider the public schools for our kids. I've actually heard people say, "Those schools are so 'ghetto,' or so 'third world,' I wouldn't send MY kid there. Etc. Look, I don't comment much on the private school threads, but it's offensive to use an out-of-date and inappropriate term to describe our schools and our kids, okay? It's dog whistle language, a short-hand way to disparage.

    I would turn the question around. Since you seem to think the term's meaning is so obvious, what *exactly* is your definition of "third world?" Which countries would you include, based on that definition? Also based on that definition, what does it mean to say that SF public school kids mostly come from the "third world? Do they really? Are you sure about that? And what does it mean to say our school district is "third world?" Is this is direct comparison to schools in a very poor country (on the UNDP scale) like Haiti, say? Or something else? What is really being said here?

    See? Not so obvious. It's a loaded term.

    (Btw, sorry if this is sharp. I tried to respond more gently the first time.)

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