More than 80% of the teachers in 10 Orthodox Jewish day schools on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley receive no medical benefits from the schools where they work, according to a survey by the Assn. of Educators in Jewish Schools of Los Angeles.
The association, a group of 80 teachers and school administrators, sent the questionnaire to the principals of the 10 schools last month.
"We undertook the study to gain a better perspective of the working conditions for our educators in the local Jewish day schools," Rabbi Moshe Amster, the group's president, said. "The situation is even worse than we expected."
Teachers and administrators have appealed to the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles for financial help to provide the 450 teachers who work in the Orthodox Jewish day schools with health-care coverage. The federation is an arm of the United Jewish Appeal and the central nonprofit agency in the Jewish community with more than 150 affiliate groups.
Emil Jacoby, the director of the Jewish Federation Council's education bureau, said his organization is sympathetic to the need to provide better health insurance. "We are working on it. There are proposals being discussed, but there isn't the money to do it," he said.
'Schools Are Independent'
The Jewish Federation Council provides $1.5 million a year to about 50 Jewish schools in the Los Angeles area. "The schools are independent," he said. "We work with the school administrators and we advocate medical plans, but we don't hire the teachers or pay their salaries. We are a coordinating agency."
Amster, a teacher of Jewish studies at Yavmeh Hebrew Academy, said the Jewish Federation can do more. "We can't lay fault on the schools because their budgets are limited," he said. "We feel we have to turn to the community, to the Jewish Federation."
He estimated that it would cost close to $1,200 a year to provide medical insurance for a teacher. Teachers earn an average of $15,000 a year. (Starting salaries in the Los Angeles Unified School District are about $20,600. The district also provides medical insurance.)
"The individual schools are in no position to underwrite the cost of instituting medical benefit plans," said Rabbi Heshy Dacks, principal of Yavmeh Hebrew Academy. "The federation is the body that oversees the Jewish community in financial matters."
Dacks and other association members said many families would not be able to afford the additional cost of providing expanded medical coverage for teachers. It costs between $2,500 to $5,000 a year to send a child to the private religious schools.
"There is no question that teachers are not being treated fairly," said Rabbi Dacks. "When you consider that a janitor working for the Los Angeles Jewish Federation receives a better health-benefits package than teachers teaching Jewish children for the community, then there is a bit of a problem."
Yonaton Shultz, association vice president, said his group is not seeking "confrontation with the Jewish Federation."
"Having medical benefits is one of the basic requirements that people need in this society," he said. "If you want to attract and maintain quality educators, then you have to provide decent benefits."
"It's hard to imagine how the Orthodox Jewish day school intends to attract and retain committed and professional educators when they cannot offer them even the most minimal of medical coverage, something which is taken for granted by every employee in America."
Shultz said that although the Assn. of Educators in Jewish Schools of Los Angeles is attemping to improve working conditions for teachers, it is not a union.
"We're not opening this issue in a confrontational manner," he said. "We are doing it in a sincere desire to improve the entire educational system. . . . Unions put things in an adversarial position. We're trying to stay away from that."
Of the 10 Orthodox day schools surveyed in Los Angeles, only 18.5% of the teachers receive medical benefits. Of them, 1.5% receive full medical coverage, 5% receive 50% or more and the remaining 12% receive 30% or less.
There are 2,000 students attending the 10 Orthodox Jewish day schools. Eight of those surveyed are on the Westside. They are Bais Yaakov High School, Hillel Hebrew Academy, Sephardic Hebrew Academy, Toras Emes, Yeshiva Gedola, Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School and Yavmeh Hebrew Academy. Valley Torah Center and Emek Hebrew Academy are located in North Hollywood.