Block Yeshiva regains tax-exempt status

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

After a lengthy back-and-forth with the federal government, Block Yeshiva High School has finally reacquired the tax exempt status it lost two years ago. 

“It took a long time and a lot of work, a lot of effort on the part of the board,” said Linda Markowitz, a member of Block’s board. “There were many forms to fill out and many budget numbers to crunch. It was quite a process but it was worth it because we are reinstated now.”

The Orthodox day school, which serves grades 9-12, originally lost its 501c3 standing in 2011 after an oversight caused the institution to fail to file a particular form with the Internal Revenue Service. A wide-ranging review by the IRS revoked the designation of Block along with some 275,000 organizations nationwide including more than 8,000 in Missouri.

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“A lot of non-profits found themselves in this particular situation,” said Markowitz. “There were certain forms and things that had to be filled out that a lot of non-profits in our situation were unaware of and were caught holding the bag on.”

Markowitz said the problem hampered fundraising for the school as individuals delayed donations so they could receive a tax exemption.

“It’s very evident that there were a significant number of donors who have been holding out and waiting for this to happen,” she said.

Markowitz did not have exact dollar figures but called the decline a “tremendous hit.” She said the school was working hard to get the news out to supporters by mail, word-of-mouth and electronic means.

She said that families at the school had often continued to give despite the difficulties.

“The parents of existing students here are of course very supportive,” Markowitz said. “They recognize what they have, what the school has been able to give to their children.”

Board president Scott Andrew agreed that the renewal of the status for Block would likely bring dollars back in.

“It means that we can actively pursue fundraising,” he said. “A good part of our budget is based on fundraising and we give a significant amount of scholarships. Having that back will hopefully encourage people to donate again to our school.”

The reinstatement was no easy task. Both Markowitz and Andrew said interactions with the IRS dragged on for months. Andrew suspects that the government’s sequestration measures may have played a role in delaying processing of the application, which the school filed in July of last year.

“We didn’t get any feedback until April so it took about nine months to get a response back,” Andrew said, “and then we had to file some additional information.”

The letter restoring Block’s status finally arrived late last month however the new status is retroactive to the date of application meaning it extends to last summer, an important point for those looking to write off 2012 contributions.

The next step will be for the school to reestablish its relationship with the St. Louis Jewish Federation.  The umbrella agency previously gave an allocation to Block but only does so for tax-exempt organizations. 

Susan Goen, spokeswoman for Federation, said that any application from Block will need to go through the same process as an agency that had never held beneficiary status. She said criteria for a decision would include showing it has regained its IRS designation, demonstrating a long-term plan for financial stability and displaying a willingness to work with Federation leadership.

Andrew said the institution had not yet contacted Federation but would do so soon.

“We just found out after the holidays so that’s one of our things that we need to pursue immediately,” he said.

Block Yeshiva has 20 girls and 12 boys enrolled this year. Last year’s enrollment was 27 girls and 15 boys.