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Increasing demand for subsidies a challenge for the KDSF

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GILLIAN KLAWANSKY

At King David, annual school fees for learners in grade 9-12 will be R131 500 in 2018. If you have two children in those grades, you’re paying over a quarter of a million rand in school fees each year – before you’ve even thought of food and rent.

“The reality is that many people are battling to pay school fees and we’re seeing increased demand on our subsidy budget,” explains Raelene Tradonsky who runs the KDSF. “We’ve had a large number of requests from parents requesting financial assistance.”

Yet, she argues, King David’s fees are significantly lower than some of the country’s top private schools.

“We still manage to be one of the top performing schools in the country, a phenomenal achievement. What differentiates us is that we’re a community school and as such, we offer subsidies to families who cannot afford our fees. Even with scholarships, our initial basis has to be one of ‘financial need’.”

Tradonsky, however, emphasises that no-one at King David gets free schooling. “Even in cases where families are helped by the Chevrah Kadisha, the Chev will give us a small percentage towards school fees – even at a public school you’d have to pay fees.

“No Jewish child is denied a Jewish education for financial reasons. However, we do have strict policies, that if your committed payment is not made, the school may terminate the agreement. Fortunately, this very rarely happens.”

With South Africa’s national education system in crisis, public schools are generally no longer an option for Jewish parents who place an enormous emphasis on education, says Tradonsky. This means the need for subsidies steadily increases.

“Jewish parents largely sacrifice other things for the education of their children. Middle-class parents, who typically would not be at a private school but rather at a good public school, just don’t have this option anymore,” she says.

“They come to King David because they want good teachers and good education and that’s where the public school system often falls down today. This reality is why we’re so proud of the subsidy scheme we offer.”

Yet, covering the subsidy shortfall comes with challenges. As uncertainty rises in South Africa, change is inevitable with many, largely wealthy, families emigrating, which often means that the KDSF loses major donors.

“The Jewish community in Johannesburg has dwindled substantially since the 70s” says Tradonsky. “We’ve just been to London, a city which has attracted a large number of our donors. A donor who emigrates is always difficult to replace and they take many years to resume donating back to South Africa, as they need to establish themselves in the new country and get involved in the community there, so it’s always a worry for us when wealthy donors leave.

“The KDSF has a R32 million target for 2018, which is what my team has to fundraise for,” she explains. “That yearly budget rises on an annual basis – there’s a constant rising trend in the value and demand for subsidies.”

Tradonsky says that subsidies from the KDS board and fundraising by the KDSF, are two sides of the same coin. “Each year just under 10 per cent of fully-paid school fees go into a subsidy fund.

“So, for 2018, we’re tasked with bringing the R32 million that covers this subsidy pool back into the system so that we can do what is needed for the schools. This includes educational advancement and infrastructure improvement, so that we aren’t compromising those who pay full fees in any way.”

With annually rising fundraising targets, the work of the KDSF gets increasingly difficult, yet they always meet targets with the help of dedicated fundraising staff and generous donors. “We have enough money this year because I’ve gone grey” laughs Tradonsky.

“It’s a lot of hard work, we do a number of different fundraising drives, both locally and overseas, where we appeal to donors to not forsake their roots. That’s our call to action, if you had the privilege of a King David education, and if you’re in a privileged position and may be able to give back, please do!

“The bulk of our donors are alumni and parents. For them, thank G-d there is the concept of ‘hakarat hatov’, a debt of gratitude. There’s also a real desire to keep King David Schools excellent,” she says.

“I honestly believe that without a Jewish school of excellence – and King David, which continues to thrive, is by far and away the mainstay of the community in terms of this – young families would seriously consider leaving South Africa.

“It’s the glue that holds the community together. We currently have around 3 500 Jewish children in our schools – 15 per cent of which are on subsidies. We’re proud to be assisting what translates to around 500 families.”

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