East Bay federation dismantles JCRC in budget cuts

"We made cuts across the board — professional staff, support staff. It's a painful thing, but we have to achieve our financial goal [of a balanced budget]," said federation associate executive director Todd Stettner.

Among the casualties is Rabbi Allen Bennett, executive director of the JCRC of the Greater East Bay for the last three years. Unlike other federation departments, which will continue to operate with reduced staffing, the JCRC, in its present form, will cease to exist July 31.

Bennett's position was scaled down to half time in February.

"The understanding was as long as the money held out, I'd have a job," Bennett said. "I'm not shocked." The agency's budget, drawn up separately from the federation's, is depleted.

"It's like triage. In this case, they're doing the least destructive thing to save the agency. It means laying off what's left of a position, sorting it out and funding it. There are so many unknowns right now."

According to Bennett, the JCRC drew up its budget predicated on raising money to supplement its federation allocation. The money was never raised.

"Federation won't operate on a deficit," Bennett said. "It really isn't unusual for nonprofits to have to raise their own budgets."

Meanwhile, the JCRC's responsibilities are being filtered through federation. Riva Gambert, JCRC associate director and a part-time worker, remains employed as a federation staffer and will channel her activities through federation's Israel Center.

Stettner was reluctant to say anything about the status of the JCRC other than "it is under study. We're in the process of deciding the best way to carry out the JCRC activities for the best dollar advantage."

Among the options being explored is a new marketing and communications director position and a possible merger with the S.F.-based JCRC that would add a full-time staffer in the East Bay.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based JCRC, acknowledged that "some preliminary discussions [are going on] between our two JCRCs to explore possible new ways of cooperating."

Meanwhile, the East Bay federation will continue to allocate funds to the East Bay JCRC; funds will be held in a bank account until a final decision is made.

Stettner reported that in addition to the 25 percent cut in personnel staff, an additional 16 percent was cut from federation's general budget.

"Everything from pencils and paper to programs" was axed, Stettner said. "We're committed to try and live within our means and still carry forward the important things we need to do in the community."

That includes keeping the Contra Costa County office open with a half-time employee and trying to salvage pieces of its Poverty Action Alliance program, which operates in partnership with the American Jewish Congress.

"This is a painful time for federation and our agencies," Stettner said. "We need to be up-front and share our burden, show that we're not above the fray. We can do with less and still go out and do the job."

The East Bay federation's financial problems stem from several sources.

The United Way cut all direct federation funding — about $22,000 — from its community campaign in May. Dollars specifically earmarked by donors for Jewish agencies through the United Way will continue to benefit those organizations.

In addition, the federation received about $40,000 less from the Koret Foundation this year.

"For us, this is a sizable chunk of change," Stettner said. "We can't make it up from small donations."

Like federation campaigns across the country, the East Bay's annual fund-raising efforts are flat.

The personnel cuts add up to about a $200,000 savings from its annual budget of $1.1 million — which include about $230,000 in such administrative services as payroll, retirement and pension assistance that it provides to its member agencies.

"It's a sad story that we had to come to this point. Maybe the community will understand that our message [seeking help] is real," Stettner said.

On a positive note, federation's efforts toward planned giving — endowment and special projects — are paying off. In the last 18 months federation has raised $85,000 in this direction. However, it cannot be used for operations and does not affect the annual budget.

Nonetheless, this proves "we're not an operation going under," Stettner said. "We're a sound organization with a good vision, one that will prove itself in the next few years. We're thinking ahead."