Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

The community stirs


At friendly dinners and agency meetings, on the phone and in emails, the plans outlined in a recent edition of the Heritage, detailing a way to restructure the Maitland campus and reduce if not eliminate the $5.8 million debt hanging over the property’s (and community’s) head, are being discussed with interest and, in some cases, a modicum of panic. Coming to be known as the Schwartz Plan (after Charles Schwartz, a Jewish community leader for decades and one of the prime reasons anything is even being done), it involves a few basic concepts: sell the south campus to the Rosen Foundation, which will establish a separate JCC, move the Jewish Academy back into its original quarters in the Maitland JCC, sell the Academy building, and find a few other sources of revenue, all of which will be applied to debt reduction.

But wait! Now that somebody wants to do something about the crippling mortgage, a cry rises from the crowd. There must be other ways around this. Other ideas. Better approaches. Less drastic ones, at the least. The Jewish Academy says it’s becoming the scapegoat for community problems. The JCC says it will lose too much revenue. The Federation—the property owner and pseudo-manager (its hands are often tied by the other agencies uncooperative attitudes regarding property management and maintenance)—well, the Federation just wants the community to be fiscally healthy. In fact, the Federation is the only agency on campus that doesn’t need the campus. It could just as easily move elsewhere, be equally, if not more effective, and be done with the headache of being a landlord once and for all.

But wait! I digress. Let’s take a look at a few of the other options that have been proposed.

Some people (I won’t say agency because no boards have voted on anything) have talked about running a capital campaign to get rid of the debt. The footprint of the Maitland campus stays the same. No one moves. It sounds wonderful.

But wait! There are few things less appealing than a fundraising campaign geared to debt reduction. On top of that, the JAO and JCC would have to be the first up to the plate. After all, they benefit the most, and have the most to gain (and lose). If the south campus were sold, and if the JCC and JAO each stepped up and raised at least $500,000 apiece, then and only then might other major donors consider helping the cause. The philanthropists who have carried this community for too long want to see broad-based support before they step in. They want a groundswell. They want the baton passed. And rightly so. Chances of any of this occurring? Let’s be honest. Slim at best.

Others have made the following recommendation. Lots of real estate companies have stopped making payments on loans, defaulted on mortgages and then renegotiated with their bank for a lower mortgage. Why not go there? After all, the Federation could make a case for financial hardship.

But wait! Before you gasp or faint at the idea of a Jewish agency defaulting on a loan, before you face the thought of no Jewish organization ever being able to get a loan in this community again, before you imagine the black eye we as a Jewish community would have in our business community, let’s ask a simple question: Will the Federation board, or any agency board ever vote for this? I don’t think so. End of discussion.

Other ideas have included leasing the JAO building rather than selling it, or better yet, increasing enrollment at the JAO and JCC so everyone is profitable and happy! Great idea.

Oops, I’m sorry, better wait again. Let’s take a look at recent history. Neither organization has shown signs of growth for the past seven years at least. And the Pew Report on Jewish Americans points to a future of further shrinking, not expanding, of Jewish involvement in Jewish agencies. It’s nice to talk about increasing programs and enrollment, but it hasn’t happened, and there are no active, dynamic plans in place to do so.

So here are some radical thoughts to consider. If the Jewish Academy wants to increase enrollment and change its perception, then raise the money to finish the second floor of its building so you’ve really got something new to tout. Build new science labs and art rooms. Stay current on all financial obligations. It’s easy to talk about great test scores and high-achieving students when they’re virtually all super bright Jewish kids. Why don’t you hang your hat on something else? And JCC, you can recoup revenue lost from rooms given back to the JAO by utilizing space—like a giant gymnasium—more efficiently.

Some JAO parents have said publicly that moving the school back into its old footprint in the JCC would be a huge step backward. First of all, the school thrived with more than 250 students when it was housed there. Today there are just over 150 students. Remember that a great school is made, not of bricks and mortar, but of teachers and students. And I’ll tell you what a real step backward would be—no Jewish day school at all. Should the community support the JAO to a greater degree, like many other communities do around the nation? Absolutely. Do we have the wherewithal, the will, to do so? Probably not. Can the Federation do more? Ideally, yes, but contributions to local agencies are still a ways off, and when the Federation does make allocations again, they still may not meet the JAO’s fiscal needs.

And finally, here’s a real option for everyone to consider. Let the Federation walk away. Turn the keys to the community campus over to the agencies who utilize 98 percent of the space, and let them deal with the debt. If roadblocks and delays and naysaying are the rules of the day, let the Federation rent a few offices somewhere in Maitland and be done with the business of property management. Then the organizations that decry the Schwartz Plan can sink or swim on their own merits with their own plans to guide them.

And that’s the Good Word.

Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com.


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