By Marianna Levine
Earlier this month, an email went out to all Ross School families announcing an increase in tuition of approximately 25 percent, a sum that shocked some parents and has many questioning their commitment —Â or their ability —Â to send their kids to the private school. However the letter also assured parents that the school was committed to retaining as many students as possible.
The March 4 email said tuition for the 2009-2010 academic year for the lower school would be $26,000, and increase from about $20,100, Middle School would be $28,500, up from 22,500, and the Upper School will be $30,000, up from $25,000.
Michele Claeys, Ross’s Head of School, explained, “For years we’ve charged a tuition lower than the value of the education we provide, and it has always been a part of the Board of Trustees’ strategic plan to increase tuition annually.” She added, “ because of the current economy we put the flexible tuition assistance plan (FTAP) in place to help our families.”
The new plan is meant to reflect sudden losses of income that many families may have recently incurred. Laura Bauer of Sag Harbor, a Ross class representative explains, “FTAP is different from a regular financial aid form, which takes note of all your assets. The flexible tuition plan looks more at sudden changes in income – liquid assets.”
In order for a family to join the flexible tuition program they must submit their financial information online to Tuition Aid Data Services (TADS) and theyÂ recommend a tuition amount based on that information.
Linley Whelan of Sag Harbor, the parent of a current high school junior, whose three other children graduated from Ross said, “The letter was a complete shock, and I was quite angry. It said we were having a meeting about this the next night. It didn’t give anyone time to think about it.” Several families concurred, saying they were blind-sided by the size of the tuition increase, and in some cases felt betrayed that the school didn’t prepare them for it.
“I understand the school is in a very tough spot, but I wish they talked to the parents about it first,” Whelan continued, noting that the educated and accomplished Ross school parents are an under-utilized resource.
However, most families, despite their initial shock are very committed to the school. Franz von Walderdorff, who has one child at the Ross Upper School and one at Pierson High School commented, “The tuition increase is difficult for parents but understandable for the school. When compared with the schools in the city it is still more reasonable. Those who can afford it will have to help those that can’t.”
Another parent, Susy Kramer, with a child in middle school added, “They do have a unique curriculum, and it is making a difference in my child’s education. I understand they have to close their budget gap.”
Bauer, who moved to the East End specifically for the school, explained, “it’s a developmental stage for the school. I understand it has to happen for the school to be sustainable and independent. It’s just tough timing.”
Other parents don’t feel like they have another viable option for their kids, either because their children are happy at the school or because they are not satisfied with their public school.
“Fifty percent of the decisions we are making now are emotional. You think about your child’s social circle which is so important to them, and that may justify the expense,” stated a parent, who didn’t want to be named since they are still deciding were to place their child.
“If you have a student going into their senior year, its really a tough time to move them to a different school,” Whelan notes, and adds, “The kids are the collateral damage from all this, and people are worried about the repercussions for their children.”
In order to insure every family understands the new flexible tuition program the school has held several meetings and workshops over the past two weeks. Also the administration has made themselves available to meet with families individually according to Claeys. Additionally, the Board of Trustees will hold a meeting with families on March 20 in response to requests for further information on the tuition increase and the school’s financial sustainability.
Â “They say they are very committed to having every family currently enrolled stay,” Bauer said. It was her opinion that as many as 65 percent of families currently in the school would qualify for aid under the flexible tuition plan.
Laurie Gordon, who has children in the second and fifth grades, explained “We’ve been at Ross for six years and we’ve never applied for financial aid before.Â It is my understandingÂ (the administration) will work with us.”Â
The school has encouraged everyone to fill out these financial forms. Yet some parents demure at having to do this, not wanting to expose their financial situation, and stating they live in a small community and feel uncertain about who will see this information. However the school has hired a new agency, Tuition Aid Data Services (TADS), to evaluate all applications. The March 4 email stresses that the financial process will be “highly confidential.”
In the end the Ross School Community seems to rally around the school and its programs. Claeys notes the teachers have agreed to a pay freeze, and also mentions this year’s annual appeal has already surpassed all others, even though it is only March.
Whelan reflects, “I’m less angry now. I’m still not over-joyed but I want to make sure the school survives and thrives.”
It remains to be seen how the school will be affected once parents know the exact amount of their tuition assistance.