Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hot topic: Will private schools raise tuition?

This from a reader:
I will be looking at private independent SF schools next year for our daughter who will start kindergarten in 2012 so I am just starting to learn about the expense, admission process and grim realities. I noticed there is only 1 older blog post on private school tuition. An article in yesterday's Examiner by Ken Garcia talked about the scary financial future for many of the independent schools. It has really got my husband and me worried. It sounds like some of these schools way overbuilt and overspent during the go-go 1990's and now they are grappling with how to make ends meet without continuing to raise tuition which is already exorbitantly high. It seems that these schools have become even more segmented with only the very wealthy able to comfortably afford the tuition and the people who get tuition assistance. That leaves the middle class (like me) who don't qualify for tuition assistance, scraping by. When I read in the Examiner that Katherine Burkes School is paying over $700K in interest expenses on their debt it scares me! All these fancy buildings the independent schools built over the past couple of years don't sound like they have done much to improve children's education. Are test scores any higher? I doubt it. From the Examiner article it sounds like they are just marketing tools for attracting wealthy families. This sounds like a school in trouble...without a simple solution like tuition increases to meet their financial commitments. The author of the SF Magazine's Schools Gone Wild article from a few years ago really did a great job characterizing the problem. Now that the economy has faltered these schools are paying the price for their lavish spending habits. I would welcome a discussion on the topic of the how independent private schools in SF are going to fare in the realities of the new, bleaker, economy.

Here is a link to the Examiner article


  1. My prediction would be that given the public school's cutbacks, they won't see a whole lot of price pressure (there's a lot of affluent people in SF, after all), but will cut back on the financial aid.

  2. A really biased article imo and I question the motives behind the "reader" creating this topic. The school has been in the neighborhood for decades (and has survived two world wars and the Great Depression) but the neighbors are trying to frame it as a new found nuisance.

  3. Really? That's a real question? Thank you, 4:11. My thoughts exactly as I read this topic from a "concerned parent". Most of these schools have been weathering the peaks and valleys of the financial landscape for more than a century, and have certainly seen bleaker economies than this. And I'm willing to bet that they have never had a more socio-economic or diverse student population than they have now. These schools aren't a bastion for the wealthy and priviledged in our fair city. Just visit a few and come to your own conclusions. Of course, that won't stop the 100 posts following mine to undoubtedly mention how white, how wealthy, how snooty Burkes et al. are. SO original, SF K Files...

  4. I agree that Ken Garcia's column on Burke seemed to be a bit of a "hit" piece on the school. (And I'm a public school parent.) I'm a little surprised at Ken, because usually he doesn't appear to be so blatantly grinding an axe for someone. In this case, he clearly did a "hit" piece for the Burke school neighbors.

  5. "I will be looking at private independent SF schools next year"

    Really? After all that?

    (I wonder why Kate would publish such a disingenuous letter)

  6. What a terrible article. So the neighbors are now the ones that can tell that the school is in financial trouble? That's like asking the citizens of Vallejo if Chevron is in trouble. Byrne may have been a former student but how does she know what the current finances look like? Further, the loan is due now? I wasn't aware of that. Garcia makes it sound like lienholders are pounding on the front door and the school is desperately trying to raise cash in some sort of fire sale. Seems to me that they are just expanding their revenue base, there's no evidence of a connection that they are doing it because they can't afford their interest load. Wow this is a bad article.

  7. I don't know what's worse, the letter (that is clearly a hit piece on privates and fake) or the article (that is a hit piece based on interviews with neighbors of all things). I can tell you this regarding the actual question of the topic though, Marin Country Day is raising tuition by 2.2% after a 0% increase last year. Their $30 Million new facility is almost completely paid for ($29.2 of $30)) and their endowment actually grew a bit over the last two years. The school is very fiscally stable. In our tours and direct questions of the schools, none of the schools seem to be in financial difficulty. Certainly NONE of them took a 30%+ endowment hit like many big private universities. (yes I know we are talking Billions rather than Millions but the cost basis is different as well)

  8. When we were at Convent, we got an audited annual report showing tuition income, fund-raising income, investment income, operating expenditures (teacher salaries & benefits and maintenance for example), and capital expenditures. There were other things in the report but that gives the big picture. I couldn't say for sure, but I believe capital improvements at Convent were only done after the money was in the bank; they did not borrow to pay for them. I would expect that's the case at most of the established schools with large alumni networks as a fund-raising base. Some of the newer privates may have incurred debt to get started.

    A school like Convent has enormous operating costs. They pay their teachers and other staff well and provide generous benefits and support for continued teacher education and training. Their physical plant is large, elaborate, and most of it quite old. The operating costs are pretty much fixed, and increase with inflation. Even full-freight tuition does not cover the full cost per child of the education and they depend on fund-raising to make up the difference.

    The wealthy are feeling hits to their investment portfolios, as are the schools themselves. It's unrealistic to hope that fund-raising will be as successful as in the past, or that the same amount of financial aid will be available.

    Private school tuition is subject to annual increases even in the best of times. Convent HS has gone from almost $25,000 per year in 2006 to over $30,000 per year now, plus you have to buy books and uniforms. Convent and Stuart Hall elementary schools are now at $22,500 per year plus uniforms. I would expect the pattern of tuition increases to remain the case and perhaps be a bit more burdensome.

    I am not trying to single out Convent; it just happens to be the example with which I am most familiar. I don't regret having paid for Convent HS. It was worth it for our kid who'd had a lot of trouble in public school. But K-12? It makes me feel faint to even think about it.

    Schools like Convent and Burkes survived the Great Depression and they will survive this economy. Whether an individual family can survive annual tuition increases that it would be imprudent not to anticipate--well, only you can answer that question.

    Meanwhile, look around. Not all privates are as expensive as Burkes, Hamlin, Town and others in that category. Ask careful questions and talk to as many parents as you can. It may work out better for you to supplement what you feel to be lacking in public school with activities outside of school. It may be that you can find a less costly private or parochial that gives you a comfort level you can't feel at public with the budget cuts. It may be that you don't get into any private schools and your choices are limited to your lottery assignment or moving. Good luck with it all--these are not easy times for anyone. And do what you can to help public schools even if you decide to go private--they need all the help they can get.

  9. There's an anti-private school bias on this site. Honestly, if I couldn't afford private school tuition and my children were faced with being in classes of 30+ kids, I'd be resentful, too. But I think we we need to support all of our children and find a way to solve this budget crisis.

  10. I don't understand all the posts here. Isn't it common knowledge that tuition at privates goes up over time?

  11. I see some people (employees of the school, perhaps?) denigrating the article and posters, but I think there is an opportunity for real discussion without substance-free negativity.

    The article and some of these posts have caused me to ask whether the cost of private schools is so high and growing so quickly, faster than any growth index, through poor fiscal decisions and management.

    With their historical big tuitions, big endowments, big salaries and ample staffs, are these schools being poorly managed? Have they become fat and happy, taking care of themselves in grand style. Dancing on the Titanic?

    Do they have any rigorous fiscal responsibility? I loved hearing that Convent doesn't spend before it has funds.

    Hard to believe that private schools can count on deep parent pockets, fund raisers and endowments while remaining not for profits.

    Certainly the story under discussion would lead a prospective parent to want to view the financial statements over time such as Convent provided the previous poster.

    This is a great article and discussion for us while we consider schools.

    I'm going to ask all the schools we are looking at for financials. I don't want to go through this decision process multiple times if our selected school goes under. Also don't want my child to have to change schools if not necessary.

  12. Thank you to the person who wrote about Convent School to bring this back to a productive discussion on the topic of cost, affordability and the future of private schools and not just an attack on the Examiner article which seems to have the Katherine Burke's School spinmeisters working overtime. From what I've read, during the recent boom times the independent private school had plenty of rich parents and donors that allowed them to make some egotistical decisions such as big facilities expansions and upgrades plus hefty pay increases to attract and retain staff. Tuition can't keep up with the proportional growth in expenses. If it's common knowledge that private school tuition goes up over time what implications does that have in a market where the population is declining, property values have decreased and payrolls are shrinking? As the previous poster notes is it time to look more closely at the fiscal responsibility of these schools? Are we finding ourselves "in education's period of wretched excess" as stated in the Examiner article?

  13. Many private schools are fancier than they need to be to provide a sound education, as are many private universities. I'm sure that's why private school and college tuition has has increased ten-fold over the past 30 years. Our daughter's student housing at her east coast liberal arts college is nicer than our condo here in the Haight. It's a chicken and egg thing. People choose which schools to apply to based on brief visits. Fancy facilities make positive visceral impressions and, in some cases, actually do materially enhance opportunities for students; e.g. state-of-the-art computer, library, science and studio art facilities. The higher the number of applicants per seat, the greater the appearance that the school is highly desirable, and more picky the school can be about its incoming class.

  14. I'm planning to ask SFUSD for financials, too.

  15. Eh? Of course private schools will raise tuition. College tuition prices have averaged a 6% increase over the past ten years, I wouldn't expect any less from private independent schools. Which is why we are in a public school. We have 3 kids...if we are paying $22,000 a year a kindergartener, we can expect to pay over $34K (that's assuming modest 5% increases) by the time one graduates from 8th grade. It could be way more. So that times 3 = hello public!


    Have fun!

    Private school info should be found on their 990s - check with Guidestar for a copy.

  17. This really seems like much ado about nothing. The way I read the article, there are some Sea Cliff residents who are upset that the school is going to be used as a summer camp in a few months. As a parent who sent my child to the *fantastic* summer camp at issue (albeit at another campus) last year, I'm going to take the director at her word that she wants to use the school for a public purpose, because I'm *thrilled* that more SF families will have access to this wonderful science-based program.

    Somehow the reporter takes that issue and makes it into a case against the finances of all independent schools generally. Note the use of phrases such as "some say" -- there really are no credible sources to back up any of his claims. There may be general concerns about private school finances -- I honestly have no clue about that -- but I don't think this article provides any solid evidence once way or the other.

    It reminds me of that SFGate editorial by a real estate agent a few months back about how people are fleeing the City b/c of its horrible public schools. The reporter didn't talk to any parents who had actually "fled," and the editorial was contrary to the fact that enrollment at SFUSD has been rising in recent years. This article is just the opposite side of the same coin.

  18. Why would anyone fault private schools for renting out their facilities when students are not using them? SFUSD leases vacant property, doesn't it? It generates income that helps pay for programs.

  19. It’s kind of a convoluted trail of information. I think the salient discussion might be if private schools are in a financial crisis due to poor financial decision making (driven perhaps by the need to look good to potential student families) how does that reflect on their decisions on the core mission of the school, to educate students? If a school’s administration is making poor investment decisions, what is their record on hiring and retaining good staff? What curriculum decisions are they making to best educate their students? What are the ratios of accredited teachers to students? Are they investing in real education or in administration staff and in looking good? How do they measure the quality of their courses and the quality of their teachers? What is their feedback and improvement process for teachers? Are administrators spending their time fighting financial fires rather than making education decisions?

  20. Good idea whoever mentioned the site.

    It is a useful resource of information for all non profits. When we evaluated public vs. private we used it to research the private school's financials. It was a real eye opener as to the reason the private schools are so expensive and why we ultimately decided on public school. I can understand the need for raising teacher salaries, but to carry that much overhead for administrators seems excessive. We were concerned about the amount of money being spent on administrators, as the previous person brought up. When you look at their financials you'll see just how much they spend for business managers, development directors, etc. not teachers.

    Here is a sampling of compensation numbers for 2007, the most current data available on the Guidestar site.

    Hamlin interim's headmaster $240K. (I heard that Hamlin's headmaster is now also provided a house to live in next to the school.)

    San Francisco Day School headmaster $447K.

    Katherine Delmar Burke's headmaster $330K.

    Keep in mind this info is 3 years old. By comparison the Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District is paid $296K.

  21. One can discern that the Burke school has raised the ire of their neighbors to the extent that their dissatisfaction has made into print. I suspect that a noisy summer camp is just the tip of the iceberg of problems in the neighborhood relations department. Doubtless the neighbors have lives to lead so their irritation must be great enough to cause them to spend precious time bringing forth the perceived indignities the school has visited on them. Being a good neighbor involves conforming to expected standards, communications, shared decisions and living within the conventions of the neighborhood. In the case of this school, that is there due to a zoning variance, one would expect them to maintain a program of good neighbor relations in order to maintain their variance. Seems like they are failing on that count. So, to echo a previous post, if they are flailing on the financial side of things and failing in community relations, what other aspects of their management are weak?

  22. To 3:12 pm -- oh my -- A school dares to start up a summer camp! What next? Children laughing and playing! Balls getting bounced around! Quelle horror!

  23. That school has been around longer than any of those neighbors. When you buy a house across the street from a school, you need to know what to expect. I live across the street from an open lot owned by SFUSD, which they rent out to Clancey's for a pumpkin patch and a Christmas tree farm. It screws up parking and causes a lot of congestion. Should I complain?

  24. This is just another way for people to take cheap shots at private schools. Don't take the bait...

  25. The fact is that many of the private schools (for example Marin Country Day, Friends, Hamlin, Live Oak, Nueva) have recently undergone or are planning expansions or renovations in land or facilities, and capital improvements like these are essential to keeping the school facilities up-to-date (for example, new science and computer labs). The question is only how much does each capital improvement cost and what is being sacrificed to make these improvements (that is, on what else might the school be spending the money).

    Also, new facilities or upgrades usually have to be paid for eventually by special capital (fundraising) campaigns because tuition alone can't cover those costs. So another question is how successful these schools can be in their capital campaigns?

    The bottom line is that Burke's is no different than the other private schools in wanting to have the very best teachers, staff, facilities, grounds, financial aid packages, and everything else, and each school has to achieve a balance among these competing needs. I don't see any evidence in this article that Burke's did not approach its capital improvements without carefully considering the impact on other aspects of its total program.

    The fact that this school (which is one of the few private schools in the city with an actual playing field) wants to have a summer program is probably great for its own students and other students in San Francisco. As for the neighbors complaints, EVERY school we visited (including Burke's) seems to be doing every reasonable thing to mitigate their impact on their neighborhoods. The enrollment cap at Burke's doesn't seems to have changed, so it's only some of the current neighbors whose tolerance for children and families seems to be less.

  26. The salary information is enlightening and disturbing. The private school headmasters make more then some Fortune 500 CEOs...and with way more vacation days. No wonder they are over a barrel, courting and competing for wealthy families who'll donate big funds for scholarships and buildings, and that's a shrinking pool of families in San Francisco.

    Is it odd the way certain people who seem to care passionately about Burke's image keep harping on that school wanting to rent out their campus for a summer camp? That isn't what this discussion is about. In Burke's case maybe they've painted themselves into corner: big debt, flat tuition, flat enrollment, huge salary and overhead costs. A summer camp is a way to help pay off their big construction loan since they can only squeeze so much out of donors. I am not interested in that topic. Clearly there are some people out there who do. The school must really need the money to be so wound up about this.

    I am very pleased to have learned of the GuideStar source for financials for these schools. I plan to spend considerable time reviewing this information.

  27. To 6:38PM who wrote:
    "The school [Burke's] must really need the money to be so wound up about this."

    I think you're misunderstanding the whole point. Burke's is not the one that seems "wound up about this" summer camp question. Rather it's the neighbors and author of that Examiner piece that are wound up about it. And if you read the article, you will see that this entire discussion IS relevant to the EXAMINER article that was linked to the original post that initiated the discussion.

  28. My goodness this has been a lively discussion today. Katherine Delmar Burke's in damage control overdrive since 4:11 a.m. Can't wait for tomorrow!

  29. 8:02, I don't think Burke's would dignify a response. And they shouldn't. Plus, they don't need "damage control". They have more applicants than they can possibly handle. It's not like they are competing for your approval.

    I left two of those "damage control overdrive" messages and I have nothing to do with the school and absolutely no connection to it. I just find it incredibly annoying that this was fake posted as a question from a concerned parent when it is really bait to trash Burke's and other privates. Bait which, apparently, I took. It is just too ridiculous to ignore.

    Now I am just waiting for the diatribe from the person who was "pleased" to learn of the financials for private schools, and who plans to "spend considerable time reviewing this information." Sounds nefarious...

  30. shouldn't we add that Burkes has no spots this year? all sibs. maybe that is contributing to all the sour grapes?

  31. What I don't understand is why there aren't bigger endowments at these schools?!!

    The gang of the well known privates have some seriously wealthy people as prospective donors, and it seems that the donations to these schools is small change compared to their net worth--so why are the parents so stingy?

    Seriously--you didn't even work for the money. You inherited all that cash from Jeans, computers, women's clothing, ski wear, chocolate, wineries, investment banks and you give what, like $10,000? Cheap.

  32. HAHAHA. This is San Francisco, not New York or Boston. Unless your name is Getty or Hewlett, there aren't a whole heck of a lot of inheritors around here. Even the richest three guys in the area (all top 10) are self made, I'll be sure to shoot Larry, Sergei and Larry though that they don't even work but just sit on their butts all day.
    Oh and you are very generous. . . with other peoples money.

  33. "They have more applicants than they can possibly handle. It's not like they are competing for your approval."

    I agree, Burke's is most certainly not competing for my approval. I am not a potential big donor. THAT's the approval they seek.

    Hey Burke's administrators obsessing over this thread, do you really have more applicants than you can handle or is it true that you have no spots this year, all siblings?

  34. So let me get this straight: the neighbors are saying that (in their expert opinion) the school overextended itself and now they have to do alarming things that basically involve use of school facilities?

    It drives me crazy when people want to live in a city and expect that they'll have a quiet, bucolic life with abundant parking available to them on the public streets. A k-8 private school is hardly something that's going to seriously compromise anyone's life. And it's nobody's business but the school and the tuition-paying parents what the school's financial situation looks life - certainly it's not the neighbors' business.

    As for the neighbor whose child attended Burke's - something tells me that she wasn't mouthing off to newspapers when she was reaping the benefits of having an excellent school so conveniently located to her home for her daughter to attend.

  35. There's no doubt an anti-private school bias to this blog and one of its sources is Kate: no way should this "concerned parent" letter have been published. Publish the article sure - people should be cognizant enough to be able to know a poor piece of journalism when they read it - but to allow a fake letter to frame the issue is, at a minimum, grossly irresponsible.

  36. A friend sent me this fascinating thread to score on my sound byte meter. Not a parent, not a local neighbor and no axe to grind. Bottom line: thought Burke’s staffers might appreciate some tips to avoid having their posts ‘outed’ in the future.

    1.) 7:13 am: Watch those sound bytes typical to your profession:
    • ‘socio-economic or diverse student population’. Help! Politically-correct-educator-alert!

    2.) 10:02 am: :"Further, the loan is due now? Garcia makes it sound like lienholders are pounding on the front door and the school is desperately trying to raise cash in some sort of fire sale."
    • No, dearie, the loan is not due now and probably not due for many years. That’s the problem.
    • It’s the $700,000 in interest payments that are due this year and years beyond that are the problem.
    • Think of it this way; 80% of the school’s annual fund raiser last year basically paid off one year’s loan interest. Every fund raiser from now until the loan is paid off is an exercise in running in place until the loan is paid off. Another way to look at it is they need almost $2000 more per year per student to pay the interest.
    • This means no extra money for buying more computers, fixing roofs, raising salaries or … ‘quel horreur’, spending on the pupils.
    • Use the term ‘bondholder’ instead of ‘lienholder’. As in the school issued bonds to cover their capital expenditures and has to pay off the bondholders. Versus: ‘I was sued for non-payment of child support and now have a lien on my home.’

    3.) 4:11 am: Advise your staff not to use this interesting, but irrelevant opinion: (All will be fine because) “ …the school survived the Great Depression and two world wars’. Besides sounding like my grandmother who ‘used to walk five miles through the snow to school every day’, it appears to be written by a history minor. Not a working parent who understands the difference between surviving the Depression as a debt-free entity and owing three quarter of a million dollars per year in interest payments.

    4.) To the 1:55 poster: ‘As a parent who sent my child to the *fantastic* summer camp at issue last year, I'm going to take the director at her word that she wants to use the school for a public purpose, because I'm *thrilled* that more SF families will have access to this wonderful science-based program.’
    a. And your *child* attended this *fantastic* camp? What uncanny insight. Checked the Examiner article and all posts. No one ever mentioned the name of the camp or indicated it is science-based.
    b. *Whoops*

    5.) To the 1:19 poster…again: ‘the director wants to use the school for a public purpose’ No, it’s not a public service. It’s public only in the sense that you can enroll your child if you pay for it. So if you have an average of $80 a day to spend, your child too will be *thrilled* to participate.

    6.) 3:24: “Dares to start a summer camp!”
    • Send back to French class and write 100 times: ‘quel horreur’, not ‘Quelle horror’.
    • The school isn’t starting a summer camp at all, dearie. You and your teachers are on vacation (and well done, too) and you’re renting the school to private companies who run ‘for profit’ camps. As in: ‘Give me the money, honey!’

    7.) 6:35 pm: You almost made it through the sound byte meter until it was hit by incoming: “…EVERY school we visited (including Burke's) seems to be doing every reasonable thing to mitigate their impact on their neighborhoods…”
    “mitigate their impact”?? Educator-jargon-alert!

    8.) Headmaster salaries: Clearly NOT posted by a Burke PR flak.
    Hamlin interim's headmaster $240K + home
    San Francisco Day School headmaster $447K
    Katherine Delmar Burke's headmaster $330K
    WAY more than most CEO’s! I’ve got a Stanford MBA, can help you model a ‘sources and uses’ statement of funds, annual cash flow and even reconcile a balance sheet. Dear Katherine Delmar Burke, please tell me where I can apply!

  37. Purely out of curiosity I looked up the KDBS Conditional Use authorization. Nowhere does it say that the school can't have a summer program; it just caps enrollment at 400, with a top grade level of 9th grade (in case they ever want to add a 9th grade in the future). They need to have a traffic control person during the school year.

    Many k-8 schools in SF either have their own summer programs or host programs in their facilities. I can't think of any reason that school buildings should sit empty and unused all summer long.

  38. Really, 9:54? You spent that much time digging through these posts to "out" people who have every right to state their opinion, just as you have obnoxiously stated yours? What do you hope people get from that? Personally, it just reads bitter.

  39. "Dear Katherine Delmar Burke, please tell me where I can apply!"

    Don't bother; you failed the flight check when google pointed us to your absurd posts.

    (Gotta love that internet -- lets people put stuff on their own permanent record.)

  40. 9:54, you say you are not a parent, so you probably don't know that anyone who has ever looked for summer camps for their kids knows about Camp Galileo, which runs camps at schools throughout the bay area, including Burke's. This is not insider info from a Burke's administrator.

  41. 9:54, DEARIE, I am the 7:13 Burke's staffer you "outed". Your Burke's staff radar must not be working. I'm not a Burke's staffer, not a Burke's past, current or future parent, not a Burke's alumni.

    Also, "outing" 1:55 for "uncannily" knowing about the camp? Any idiot with kids in this city knows that the camp in question is Camp Galileo.

  42. I am the 1:55 poster who was "outed." The previous posters are correct -- anyone who has searched for summer camps, and especially those who (like me) have sent their children to Camp Galileo in the past, know about a campus opening at Burkes this year. It's on the camp's website (see below), so this isn't some secret known only to people at the school. I received an e-mail from the camp in January announcing the new campus, and I really was thrilled. There are campuses all over the Bay Area, but the sole SF location is on the south side of the city and is difficult to reach for people in the northern part of town. I suppose the camp is not "public" in the sense that you have to pay tuition to attend, but I really do believe that Burkes is providing a service by renting the place out to such a great camp.

    Look, I have no connection to the school, other than the fact that I have friends who went there when they were kids. I have a boy, so it's not as if I could even apply to the place. My son is in public school. Not that that's relevant to this "discussion," but I feel as if I've been accused of being some private school insider who was trying to spread propaganda on behalf of a school. Sheesh!

  43. As to the orginal question, private school tuition will be raised to keep up with inflation. It is wise to have an idea about the school's financial stability but I see no reason to jump to the conclusion that there will be giant increases. Particularly, when there are more applicants then spots at most schools to pay for the school's operating costs.

    As an aside, cheers to Burke's for hosting a summer camp so that other kids can enjoy their space and for finding revenue that can keep their costs down or provide Financial Aid - wise and prudent move. Signed - person who has no affiliation with Burke's, never set foot in the place and does not have a daughter.

  44. I have a question for 10:24. How does one go about looking up a conditional use permit? I live near a Presidio Heights private school and am curious to know more about their permit and if there are any restrictions. Where can one find this information? Thanks.

  45. I appreciate 11:58 bringing this discussion back to the topic of tuition increases. Given the amount of posts, there clearly seems to be a lot of interest in what private schools can do, or are currently doing, to supplement their revenue since tuition can't cover their costs.

    May I suggest we start a separate discussion on "Private schools diversifying in search of new revenue sources"? In that forum opinions on campus leases, conditional use permits, zoning, community relations can be aired. Sounds like there are a number of folks who have something to say on this topic. I'd like to hear from some of you to see if you think this is a valid suggestion in order to keep the discussion on tuition increases from going astray. If others agree I'll submit a request to Kate.

  46. Couple of things on this:

    First, has anyone ever heard of a neighbor next to a school (public or private) that EVER liked anything? SF is notoriously NIMBY - no matter what the issue. SF Day, Burkes - etc, all have had issues with neighbors - valid or not.

    Second, does anyone remember when Ken Garcia wrote his big article about how he was ceremoniously pulling his kids out of public to go private? Seriously, he get's paid to create controversy.

    Finally, EVERY institution I know of is looking for ways to maximize resources and property - SF Rec & Park in a huge way, SFUSD, churches and synagogues - and, yes, if you have a great private school facility, it would only be the responsible thing to do to look for ways to generate income for your school.

    I'm staunchly pro-public school but Ken Garcia's faux issue is just silly.

    That said, I know that endowments are down significantly and that many schools seriously extended themselves in the 1990's (my husband's architectural firm designed many of them.)

    Few among us anticipated the Great Recession - everyone is 'paying for' it now (nonprofits, government, businesses, homeowners, etc. etc.)

  47. 6:58--

    How naive can you be?

    You cannot have your children in a private school here.

    And you can kid yourself all you want, but in many respects, san francisco is just like the east coast! In our school, the amount of people who inherited their vast wealth is mind boggling--they are nice people and all but they also didn't "work" for their money. Are there parents who are fabulously wealthy of their own accord? absolutely (and they usually have more than the heirs)but this is JUST LIKE THE EAST COAST in the respect that many, many people come from family money (the only difference i can see is instead of many generations, the money only goes back, one or two generations).

    btw., I gave 20K (above and beyond my tuition) this year to my children's school--how much did you give?

  48. "what private schools can do, or are currently doing, to supplement their revenue since tuition can't cover their costs."

    Most private schools do not expect or want tuition to cover all operating costs. They want to create a "gap" which keeps overall tuition lower for everyone and lets people with some spare money make up the difference through annual giving. Also donations are tax write-offs for the donors, while tuition is not.

  49. 1:26 - I confess that I work for the city so I just looked it up. But you can call the Planning Information Center at 558-6377 and the planner who answers the phone should be able to tell you (you might be on hold for a while, though).

    FYI, not every school has a conditional use permit. If the school was around before the zoning requirement was in effect then they're grandfathered in, and only need the permit if they're building, expanding, or generally doing something that would trigger a permit if they weren't already there. Also, some schools are located in zoning districts that don't require a conditional use permit. So it could be that what you'll find out is that there's no conditional use for the school you're looking into.

  50. Cough cough 4:56 full of crap and herself cough cough.

  51. Some of these comments are truly surprising and vindictive but thank you for the helpful information here too. I am new to all this and have some questions about the donations, etc., if anyone has time to help! I hadn't really realized in our tours that donations are really nearly a "part" of tuition - as one reader said, it is tax deductible, as a "gift" to parents. We applied to private and public and will go private due to the budget cuts if we are accepted.

    1. I know the amount the "average" family is expected to donate each year is in the thousands - if you can't afford that (we can afford tuition assuming it increases about 5% a year and not a lot extra), are there subtle repercussions? As in, do people feel it makes a difference when the kids apply to high school or anything else? (that's a long time away so maybe we will be able to afford by then)

    2. Roughly what percent of families at each school pay the "gap" (several thousand dollars). Does this vary? (I am trying to work this out from the 990s but if anyone knows offhand that's very helpful)

    3. Are there private schools where what everyone gives is not public? It seems to be in most annual reports.

    4. Are there many anonymous gifts? It seems having children see all this can't be productive, so I hope it is not something they notice (but with family names over so many buildings etc how can they not notice?). Not that it isn't worthwhile recognizing a generous gift but some seems OTT.

    5. Is this a different situation at single sex vs coed?

    Also thank you to the writer who suggested looking at 990s. I did not know this information was available and I found it interesting to look at salaries, how much schools made (or lost!) from various fundraising events, how much they collected in donations, how much they gave in financial aid, etc. The only thing is, this was 2007 info - does anyone know when 2008 will become available so we could see what happened toward the end of that year (the 'crash')?

    Thank you I know these are a lot of questions.

  52. 7:42, I'll try to answer some of your questions.

    1. You give what you can give. What they do like is 100% participation, but for some families, participation is $100 or less. There are no repercussions for giving less than the gap!

    2. I do not know what percentage of families pay the gap. But certainly a few families donate a signficant amount, I'd say many families give the gap amount, and many give substantially less than the gap amount. If you look at the annual report for most of the schools, the largest category is under the smallest amount donated.

    4. At least at my school, you can choose to donate anonymously.

    Good luck.

  53. 7:42 - at our school - Friends - they don't ask people to fill the gap, nor do they even say what the gap is. They really push 100% participation but don't request a specific amount. The participation number is helpful for the school in obtaining grants, financing, etc., so it really is important that it reach 100%.

    Our annual report doesn't list names or donor categories.

    In terms of kids knowing that some families give more than others, I believe that there are so many ways that kids see and understand differences in wealth that this would be pretty benign. I'd rather they were aware of well-off people making gifts benefitting others than well-off people buying expensive cars and designer goods, personally.

  54. 9:03 - Thank you so much for this information and perspective. Of course you are right about the importance of spotlighting generosity rather than other things on which money could be spent! That's a really good point and changes my thinking a bit. And, nice to have the strong focus on participation - so everyone can feel that they are helping, whether the high $ amount or the greater likelihood of getting a grant.

  55. Good questions that get to the heart of the matter: what the real cost of a private independent school education?

    Our school publishes donor lists. I don't think kids are aware for several years, by then they accept that families come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds. I have worked in a support role at several fundraisers, enjoyed the camaraderie. It can be weird if a rude parent treats you like one of the help, but most parents appreciate that giving your time might be the only way you can participate.

    I agree that annual fund is the most high pressure since there is a 100% participation goal. If you don't see close to 100% this probably signals a problem of parent discontent or apathy. But 2009 was a tough year financially so factor that in. You give what you can give but you might want to budget a couple thousand dollars/year to modestly participate in galas, auctions, raffles, candy bar/gift wrap/magazine/calendar drives, golf/tennis fundraisers plus annual fund.

    The second cost is your time. Initially there are plenty of enthusiastic parent volunteers jockeying to sign up for field trips, lunch room/recess monitors, library book shelvers, gala set up. It's a fun way to get involved. With each year participation tends to dwindle until you're left with a handful of trusty parents shouldering the burden. There can be contention as to why certain families don't ever help, especially when there are many non-working parents. Those with several kids begin to weigh going to yoga versus driving their fourth field trip that semester. Who can blame them.

    For the working parent consider the number of days school is closed for teacher in-service days, parent-teacher conferences, ski week, spring break, special event set up days, carnival days and long weekends stretched with early dismissal Fridays. This makes things complicated for the working parent who doesn't have a stay home spouse. I overlooked how many days the private schools are not in session during the school year and under-budgeted in this regard. So look carefully at each schools' calendar to factor in the cost of missed work days or babysitting expense.

    I've heard that the number of required school days at the independent schools is significantly less than SF public schools (as in several weeks less). Does anyone have those statistics?

  56. 4:56 here,

    At our school, we have class leaders who politely remind you to donate to the annual fund--which will or will not be separate from funding school tuitions for other families.

    The school shoots for 100% donation to the annual fund from all families, and if you are unable to pay a substantial amount, there is NO PRESSURE to pay anything more (like say, $100).

    There is no listing of names in our annual report (though there are other fund-raising bodies at the school where names are listed);
    only a breakdown of how many parents gave substantial amounts.

    And the school already knows who has money and who doesn't, so they will approach you if they presume you are loaded, and will pitch a donation program for you (usually at the level they think you can afford based on how much cash they think you have).

    As far as I have seen, this is really something wealthy parents do to help the school (which is why I get upset that the really wealthy don't give more). No one talks about it, I don't think the teachers really talk about it (although of course everyone knows who is wealthy and who isn't so isn't it better to be known as wealthy and generous?), and the kids certainly don't talk about it.

    The rich--poor divide plays out in many subtle and obvious ways at school, but this is not one of them.

    But I hear I am full of crap anyway, so what do I know?

  57. I have one child in a private school. This has been a tough year for me (and for many) and I can't contribute much -- I paid $75 to attend a fundraiser/cocktail party several months ago. I am giving $100 to the annual fund. I am not attending the fundraiser in the spring. I work full-time so I am not able to volunteer much during the day.

    Regarding days off, most schools (I believe) offer camps for working parents for holiday or vacation days. Camp at my school is $60 for the full day, from 7'30am - 6pm, which I think is a pretty good deal. They do field trips with the kids -- ice skating, bowling, riding the cable cars, museums, parks, etc.

    One more thing, if you are looking at schools with uniforms, keep in mind that you can either pay upwards of $500 for several new uniforms/shirts/cardigans or about $50 for used at the school store. (I think used uniforms at my school are $10 each, and most parents buy them used.)

  58. Again, very helpful. I am learning so much I didn't learn in tours.

    11:10. Really interested to know more about how the 'rich--poor divide' plays out -- I take your point that a lot of this is subtle and would love if you could share your perspective. I assume obvious is mostly material possessions etc? I was at one school recently and couldn't believe how many things were named (the theatre, the entryway to the theatre, some of the lockers). I get the big stuff, although I like it that it seems not every school does this (MCDS and Friends did not seem to have a lot of that). I can see a few things being named but when little things are, it makes one wonder if they couldn't get donations except for naming opportunities as an incentive?

    11:32 - Would you mind saying what school your child attends? $60/day is pretty good, as I assume that is about $6-8/hour. Although if you have multiple children I suppose hourly care at school gets to be even more expensive than an expensive nanny.

    10:51 - Sad that any parents would treat anyone helping (as a volunteer or paid help) badly. Eeek, this is where private school starts to make me nervous though there are bigger reasons why public school is difficult as well (especially applying this year, since we have a younger kid who would apply under the presumably different "neighborhood" system next year, so the chance they would end up together seems slim).

    Is it published anywhere participation levels, or do we have to ask this? It seems so late in the process to do this. If any parents from schools are reading, if you wouldn't mind sharing participation levels of late for your school, that would be great - or if anyone learned this on tours, that would be great to know.

    Lisa Aquino at Hamlin sent all families applying this year a list of all the "extra" expenses and noted how much everything cost. I really appreciated this honest approach since some things (like music lessons!) were far more expensive than I had imagined. She also mentioned used uniforms, and I thought that sounded very inexpensive, and we could figure out how much we would save on clothes. Extended care before school (for up to 90 minutes) was also not at all costly at $2.50/day although after school care at $10/hour seemed expensive and classes like yoga afterschool were also expensive at $20/each. I don't know how much this varies per school, probably not that much?

    Thank you everyone.

  59. Nice to see this discussion going in a productive direction. Good point about looking at the total cost and what 9 years will come to by the time your child graduates. I looked at the Form 990 info too. Very informative on the high cost of running a private school but it also raises questions about why it is so high. It gives me information to ask some tough questions and to ponder whether my donation dollars will be put to good use. In addition to eye-popping headmaster salaries, the independents have paid handsomely for development directors, finance directors, technology directors, deans of students, business managers. I am sure that these schools have well-meaning board members but perhaps they need to be held more accountable to ensure that funds are being spent wisely and for parents to ask the question the Examiner raised: "when is too much too much"?

  60. I found in FAQ information on when the Form 990 is published. If I interpreted it correctly sounds like we could start to see the 2009 Form 990's soon. These would provide financials on the 2008 fiscal year.

  61. Hi 12:36, this is 11:32. My daughter is at Hamlin. Hamlin Holiday Camp is $60 a day. Regular extended care is $2.50 for the morning (7-8am) and after school it's $5 every 1/2 hour. My daughter hasn't taken any of the ASA (After School Academy) classes -- I do know that those are a bit more expensive. In addition, whenever they have events in the evening, they provide free childcare, which is great. The cocktail party I attended in the winter also had free childcare, for example. Those little things are nice.

    I certainly don't have a lot of money and it is a sacrifice to send my daughter to a private school, but I honestly do not spend much beyond tuition.

    Even extracurricular sports are affordable -- there are always three or four teams led by parent volunteer coaches, and unless I'm losing my mind I don't think it's more than $50 to play for the entire season, including uniforms.

    Anyway -- I find the school community to be down to earth, and I don't feel pressure from other families or from the school to cover the gap or even approach the gap. Like I said before -- the pressure is to participate because they want to reach 100%.

    Hope this helps.

  62. Eeek, this is where private school starts to make me nervous though there are bigger reasons why public school is difficult as well (especially applying this year, since we have a younger kid who would apply under the presumably different "neighborhood" system next year, so the chance they would end up together seems slim).

    12:36, I can't really comment on the larger topic, and I don't want to take this thread off-topic, but for yours and everyone's sake I'd like to point out that your younger kid will in great likelihood benefit, if you want, from sibling preference. Every iteration I have seen of the proposed new assignment system for SFUSD's elementary schools includes sibling preference for younger siblings who would be attending the same school. Therefore, if you like the school your older child gets into this year, you can rest assured your younger child will be able to attend that school as well, unless they are more than 5 years apart in age--or 8 years apart, for a K-8 school. Therefore, this would not in fact be a specific "difficulty" of the public schools for you.

    Okay, back to regular programming.

  63. thanks 7:04 - we will probably be assigned to John Muir this year but next year we'll probably get McKinley, under the new system. It's more that we would want our older one to get the one our younger one gets next year - but usually they don't give preference to older siblings. i would think this would be a major issue for the next few years - not sure how they'll deal with it. thanks and yes back to reg programming!

  64. As an MCDS parent I can tell you that there isn't any pressure put on you to fill the gap. The gap is $2k last year and I appreciate that it wasn't part of the bill because it's now tax deductible. I know a lot of people don't give that which is fine. I don't know anyone who knows one way or another and I personally don't want to know. I don't see a rich/poor divide here other than the talk of where they were over the break. It sure isn't in the parking lot where 4 of the 5 wealthiest families I know drive minivans. My kid doesn't care if he goes to his friends apartment next to the tenderloin or to his other friends house in Presidio Heights. Also, I don't believe any of the new buildings have names other than "Library". After school activities are too long to list but none are incredibly expensive. I think that outdoor adventure one everyone tries to get is $300 and is the most expensive. Tuition is going up 2.4% next year and went up 0% last year and of course includes the lunch program which everyone eats. The annual statement from last year showed the endowment did not take a hit from the recession and was up a tiny bit. The fund raising took a small charge and fell short by something like $20 thousand. That's about all I know. Don't take people making all the social commentary too seriously. It will warp your thinking. Stick to people that know because they are there or know first hand. Oh and for what it's worth, I only know one family that has inherited a large sum of capital and is famous in the area and they are very sweet people that work extremely hard. That's just not a very nice thing to say. I hope you don't go to school here whoever you are that wrote that.

  65. True, most of the people are nice and hard working. The ones that are not you would find at any school anywhere in the country, no matter how wealthy or not. Don't be intimidated. You'll meet plenty of nice people.

  66. Thanks for that information 9:46 and 1:17. It is reassuring to hear this. Now fingers crossed for acceptance letters! Trying not to freak out.

    BTW, notice how relevant and polite the posts are this weekend? Is it a coincidence that the private school staffers are not at their desks on Saturday and Sunday? Kind of funny they way they are verbally sparring with each other under the guise of concerned parents. As a prospective parent it makes you wonder if this spotlights a problem of loosely managed administrative staff with too much time on their hands.

    I expect this will trigger another round of indignant, adamant replies denying any affiliation with the schools. Sigh...

  67. Posts are polite because questions are polite and non-judgemental. I'll say this, as someone who has been defensive on this thread. I actually know that while many private school staffers (I can speak for two of the girls schools although I would assume other privates are the same) do read this blog, they have a policy not to participate.

  68. March 7, 3:48 PM wrote:

    "I expect this will trigger another round of indignant, adamant replies denying any affiliation with the schools. Sigh..."

    This is a typical ad hominem attack--you don't like a message so you try to discredit the poster with a wild accusation.

    Similarly, an earlier poster (March 5, 9:54am--perhaps it's the same person?) tried to claim that the phrase "mitigate their impact on their neighborhoods…” was "Educator-jargon", but that phrase actually comes from the field of urban planning (not education) and is the lingo of environmental impact reports.

    It doesn't advance the discussion to try to discredit people whose opinions you don't like by making baseless accusations about them. It only poisons the dialogue and makes constructive people want to leave. I think we all owe posters the benefit of the doubt that they are parents too (not paid hands hired to defend the schools).

  69. So, 3:48 thinks the nasty comments are from private school administrators? Oh my. Odd that you are waiting for an acceptance letter but then slam the people that work there. There must be someplace better to troll.

  70. Wow such bitterness over private schools here.

    Shouldn't we be more concerns about the cuts in our public schools. Who cares what a neighboor says about a school.

    Would that neighboor say the same thing about a church which has weekend and after hours activities? Even summer events?

    Don't insult the parents that send their kids to private schools. Think about it. They are paying for their kids and our kids education

    We should be thanking them, and ask them to keep paying high taxes...

  71. Huh? I've seen plenty of private-bashing on the public-private debate threads, but this thread seems more like internecine warfare within the private school set, and perhaps their Sea Cliff neighbors. Not a lot being said here from the perspective of public school communities.

    Not every negative comment (or thread) about private schools is about the public-private debate. Sometimes the biggest critics are private school parents themselves (or, apparently, their wealthy neighbors). I for one (as a public school parent) read this thread with some amusement but felt no need to comment....other than now to say I am so, so grateful I'm not paying tuition increases given that my salary has only decreased recently due to cutbacks in work time.