Jewish Journal

Three JCCs to Gain Their Independence

by Marc Ballon

Posted on Dec. 26, 2002 at 7:00 pm

The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), which last year nearly drowned amid a sea of red ink and allegations of mismanagement, wants to get out of the business of running major community centers after 60 years.

With pressures mounting to give the centers under its control greater autonomy, JCCGLA has gone a step further. Sometime next year, the Westside JCC in Los Angeles, Valley Cities JCC in Van Nuys and West Valley JCC in West Hills are scheduled to become fully independent entities with their own boards of directors, employees and budgets, said Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president.

The trio of centers and the JCCGLA will retain strong links, Lieberman Giladi said. The JCCGLA, for yet-to-be-determined fees, will provide them with accounting, human resources, fundraising and other services, she said.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA will continue to operate the Zimmer Children's Discovery Museum, the Shalom Institute in Malibu and the Conejo Valley JCC,

It is unclear whether the independent centers would have to pay off debts incurred by JCCGLA. If they do, some observers question whether they could survive.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA has balanced its budget and has made real progress in righting its finances. However, in recent negotiations with the centers' unionized employees, JCCGLA officials allegedly asked for major concessions, including wage freezes, the elimination of several paid Jewish holidays and the curtailment of health benefits for many teachers and employees, said Jon Lepie of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800.

"What they've said is that their financial situation is dire; that they have debt all over town, including credit card debt," he said. "It's incredibly serious."

Robert Sax, JCCGLA spokesman, said the organization had no credit card debt. He declined to comment on Lepie's allegation, saying JCCGLA doesn't discuss ongoing negotiations.

The JCCGLA has taken steps to cut costs and better marshal its resources. For instance, it saw a one-time savings of $200,000 and will also save $150,000 annually from hiring a new accountant. It has also replaced its chief financial officer and made changes to prevent future financial crises.

"From all evidence I've seen in the last year, I'm confident of their abilities and that corrective actions have been taken," said Michael Kaminsky, president of Westside JCC Advisory Board and a JCCGLA board member.

However, JCCGLA remains saddled with a large debt. The organization owes The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles $2.8 million, The Federation said. Over the past eight months, the two groups have negotiated on repayment and a host of other issues. It is unclear how much debt The Federation would forgive, if any.

As part of its repayment, JCCGLA has, at the behest of The Federation, put a lien on two properties worth an estimated $1.1 million, including the site of the Silver Lake Independent JCC. That arrangement means The Federation would receive the proceeds from any sale.

The Federation said it would not take any action that would result in the closure of Silver Lake, at least until June 30, 2003. It is also in discussions with JCCGLA and the Silver Lake group to explore options after that date.

Silver Lake Independent JCC has improved its finances since breaking away from JCCGLA and now operates with a slight surplus, Silver Lake Chairman Janie Schulman said. In early December, a silent auction and dinner dance raised $20,000, she added.

Lieberman Giladi said the worst is behind JCCGLA, adding that the impending split with the Westside, Valley Cities and West Valley JCCs would help the centers.

"I believe this gives them the best possible chance [to survive]," she said. "Each of the JCCs will be able to broaden their base of support by developing their own governing bodies and programs."

Critics of JCCGLA had long complained that money raised by individual centers went into the JCCGLA general fund. They also groused that JCCGLA was sometimes unresponsive to local concerns.

"This will give us more control over our individual destinies," said Judy Boasberg, a Westside JCC board member. "Before, we didn't have much input on what was going on."

Despite the optimism, the centers' futures are by no means assured.

The Federation, by far JCCGLA's biggest benefactor, has itself come under increasing financial pressure from the many agencies it supports. With cash-strapped federal, state and local governments slashing funding across the board, several nonprofit groups will likely turn to The Federation to make up any shortfalls. That could stretch The Federation thin, making it more difficult for JCCGLA or independent centers to tap its resources.

"We do not have unlimited funds," Federation President John Fishel said. "We have many responsibilities and will continue to meet as many of them as possible. It's a balancing act."

In 2001, Federation grants, loans and advances to JCCGLA totaled $6.1 million, or nearly 44 percent of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation (that figure includes a $2.8 million emergency advance). Nationally, federation giving accounts for just 12 percent of the budgets at typical Jewish community centers, the JCC Association said.

This year, The Federation has earmarked $2.9 million for JCCGLA. The Federation also is contributing another $600,000 to run programs shed by JCCGLA during its financial crisis and taken over by Jewish Family Service, including SOVA, the Israel Levin Senior Center and Westside Adult Day Care.

It appears that JCCGLA has struggled more than many of its peer organizations nationwide. The Bay Cities JCC was the only Jewish community center in the United States to have closed in the past two years, the JCC Association said. As JCCGLA contracts, the overall number of affiliated Jewish community centers in the United States has grown in recent years, according the JCC Association.

Lieberman Giladi remains upbeat.

"I think the fact that the centers are here today is proof that they'll be here tomorrow," she said. "We've already beaten the odds."

Services Offered by Community Centers

Conejo Valley JCC: Early childhood education (ECE); and intergenerational programming and community programs, such as lectures on parenting.

West Valley JCC: ECE; family programs; seniors programs; health and fitness; summer day camp; after-school child care; and cultural and fine-arts programs.

Valley Cities JCC: ECE; summer day camp; after-school child care; family programs; and some cultural programs, including staged-play reading series. Weekly seniors group and monthly senior dinner-dances.

Westside JCC: ECE; kindergarten; family programs; and some cultural programs. Budget cutbacks forced the suspension of seniors and health and fitness programs. Jewish Family Service runs a senior adult day care program.

North Valley JCC (Independent): ECE, after-school child care; after-school karate and gymnastics; winter, spring and holiday minicamps; swimming classes; senior bridge club; and adult social clubs. Beginning in January: adult evening programs, including Israeli dancing, beginning Hebrew and Jewish history.

Silverlake Independent JCC (Independent): ECE; kindergarten; after-school child care; ballet and other children's classes; and fitness class for seniors

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