Home News Canada At CHAT town hall, parents and students angry they kept in dark

At CHAT town hall, parents and students angry they kept in dark

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TanenbaumCHAT’s Kimel Family Education Centre. FACEBOOK

An emotional and raucous three-hour town hall meeting about the closing of the northern campus of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto left parents, teachers and students fuming at the school’s board of directors and administration.

About 500 people packed the gym at TanenbaumCHAT’s Kimel Family Education Centre (TCK) in Vaughan March 14 and castigated the board for keeping them in the dark about the difficult situation the school was facing prior to the closure being announced.

Many also left feeling the board didn’t adequately answer their questions about the closure and plan to merge the two campuses.

“It was a travesty to call this meeting under the guise of exchanging information and then brush parents off,” parent Rebecca Ansel said as the meeting ended.

On March 6, TanenbaumCHAT’s board of directors announced it would close the northern campus, which has long struggled with declining enrolment, and move all students to the school’s southern campus beginning next fall.

READ: MUSINGS ON A SHUTTERED JEWISH HIGH SCHOOL

At the same time, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto unveiled $15 million in donations that it said will allow the school to slash tuition by one-third, to $18,500 next year and $19,000 for the following four years.

Board treasurer Stephen Bloom, who chaired a lengthy question-and-answer session, made it clear the board’s decision would not change.

“We’re not here to assess proposals. The decision to close the campus has been made,” he said as the audience loudly voiced its displeasure.

“When you made the decision that because of financial viability, one campus was going to have to close, that was the time to put the message out,” Ruth Gottfried, a grandparent of a student at the school, said later in the session. “People are angry, not necessarily about what you did, but the way you did it.

“It also scares me a little that your plan for the future involves things that you have done in the past that have failed. You’re planning on raising more money, you’re planning on recruiting more students through the feeder schools and you’ve acknowledged that hasn’t worked. Is the entire school system going to fail in five years?”

Rabbi Lee Buckman, TanenbaumCHAT’s head of the school, and Ray Rubin, president of the board of directors, explained that while enrolment figures have been declining for a number of years at the northern branch, the board had hoped that a financial crisis could be averted by renting part of the school’s building to Leo Baeck Day School, a plan that was announced in November.

But by January, the school realized its enrolment projections were off by 30 per cent, while their fundraising projections had missed their goal by 45 per cent, Rubin said.

Tuition, which is currently $27,000, would have needed to increase to $30,000 in order to keep a second campus open, she said.

The $15 million in new donations require TanenbaumCHAT to fundraise $1.5 million annually. Last year, the school raised $798,000, and in 2015 it raised $340,000, according to its annual financial reports.

It would cost an extra $3 million to keep a second campus open and another 200 students would need to enroll there, Rubin said. “We have no track record of raising that kind of money,” Rubin told the meeting.

Currently, the north campus has 381 students, while the south campus has 585. Next year’s combined enrolment is projected at 850 students on one campus.

Forecasts based on the number of students currently in Jewish elementary feeder schools show that in five years, the south campus’ enrolment would remain steady at around 530 students, while the north campus would have dropped to about 180 students.

Parents and students criticized the school for what they described as its weak efforts at recruiting students, especially so-called “New Stream” students – teens who aren’t currently in day school, but can begin Jewish studies in Grade 9.

The school was also faulted for failing to cut its expenses and trim its administrative payroll while enrolment was dropping.

Andrew Howard, a parent and a superintendent with the Toronto District School Board, said that in the public system, a principal and two vice-principals are able to run a school with 1,300 students.

“I look now and I see a principal of general studies, a principal of Jewish studies, two vice-principals, a head of school to run one school campus… You’re looking at a management team of 60 people,” he said.

Howard also took aim at what he characterized as the school’s excessive spending on professional development and trips to Israel and other destinations.

“Where are you cutting? All I see is spending,” he said as the crowd cheered loudly.

Teachers also charged that the board had negotiated with them in bad faith, knowing that a branch closing was coming, but not telling the teachers’ unions.

“Maybe we would have negotiated differently [in ongoing contract talks] if we knew teachers were losing their jobs,” Aviva Polonsky, head of the Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools, said after the meeting.

The union is considering whether to lodge a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, she said.

Individual teachers will learn April 1 whether they will have a job at the merged campus. Meanwhile, they have missed the deadline to apply for jobs with the York Region District School Board, Polonsky said.

“Is this an ethical thing to do? Is this a Jewish thing to do?” she said.

Many speakers said the decision to close the northern campus is being seen as UJA Federation turning its back on the Jewish community north of Steeles Avenue, which is growing rapidly, especially at its northern edges, where housing prices are somewhat lower.

Alisa Daly, the mother of an elementary-school age child, told the board she runs a preschool, with 69 Jewish families currently enrolled, just blocks from the northern campus.

“It broke my heart that I was going to protest [tonight],” she said. “Please don’t close the door and give up on York Region.”

While the merger plan envisions that the majority of students from the northern campus will transfer to the southern one, a number of students said the distance is just too great, especially since they would be travelling during rush hour as part of the crush of commuter traffic.

READ: TORONTO MAYOR ATTENDS STUDENT-ORGANIZED RALLY AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM

Adam Livshits, a Grade 10 student who lives near Yonge Street and Elgin Mills Road, said it would take him an hour and a half to reach the southern campus. His family has asked for its enrolment deposit back, and he will attend public high school next year, he said.

Other parents, especially those living north of the Vaughan campus, said the lengthy commute combined with the longer school day and demanding curriculum will add to students’ stress.

“My daughter comes home and works for 2-1/2 hours,” said Howard. “What’s going to happen when she comes home at 6 p.m.?”

A group of parents who are concerned that, among other problems, the deadline to merge the campuses is too tight proposed that the decision be delayed at least one year. During that time, the group says it hopes to launch an “aggressive campaign” to raise funds and increase enrolment by promoting the new lower tuition fees.

At the same time, a transition plan to merge the two campuses, if necessary, could be devised to ensure “the transition is well thought out… and will not negatively impact the level of education currently being received,” according to a post on the group’s Facebook page, Save TCK.

The parents will present their proposal to the board the week of March 20.

  • Bilal

    You forgot to mention the deplorable lack of leadership within UJA, specifically form Daniel Held, who didn’t have the guts to face a room of people that would have told him to his face what a steaming pile of junk he is. He, and this decision, will always be remembered as the beginning of the end of the Toronto Jewish education system.

    • Benben

      Yes and no. The beginning of the end started awhile ago.

      • Bilal

        You are right, I guess only now are we paying the price. So Daniel Held is running UJA into the ground and Trump is doing the same with the USA. Should we be surprised?

  • Jim

    I completely agree. Daniel Held should be ashamed of himself. The CJN should not give him a platform to voice his complete ignorance to the needs of families in our community.

    The tragedy is that the generous philanthropists made an important investment in Jewish education but of course UJA found a way to waste this opportunity.

    • Benben

      UJA is a scam. Give your money, if you have it, directly to charities. Time to tear UJA down altogether

  • joeharvey

    Aside from the outrageous spending and mismanagement, I wonder how many board members and administration that made the deplorable and deceitful decision live in York Region? Isn’t that where the Jewish community is growing the fastest? Don’t they know it’s easier to travel north than south in this town in the a.m.? A great way not to grow an organization.

    • Benben

      What you said

  • Jeff

    Part of a pattern, where real estate is valued more than people. Beautiful new JCC but now the premises will have less activity, less people. Years ago, they tore down the Bathurst Sheppard JCC in favour of a parking lot (and built the new JCC). You can dress it up all you want with donor names, but at the heart it remains a Jewish Community Centre, focus should be on community

    • Benben

      And the Bathurst JCC remains a shell that offers almost zilch. We trek north or south for Jewish offerings. There was nothing wrong with the old BJCC. A bit of reno maybe. A total destruction, a shande. I never step foot in there nor does anyone I know

  • Nanci Brown

    There are so many odd things about the decision to close the school and its timing.
    – Why was the Board empowered to make this community-changing decision unilaterally without any advance notice to its stakeholders?
    – Why won’t CHAT share the school bylaws?
    – Why was no one on the Board held accountable for poor fundraising and recruiting results?
    – Why are they continuing to pursue a failed strategy, namely, promoting CHAT only to Jewish primary schools – given those feeder schools’ declining enrollment (Shupac, 2016) – vs. trying to attract “New Stream” students (i.e., kids from outside of the Jewish primary school system)?

    The Board’s lack of communication, transparency, and empathy speak to its poor leadership ability. The community and our kids deserve better.

    Shupac, J. (Sept. 1, 2016). This isn’t your bubbie’s cheder anymore. Retrieved from http://www.cjnews.com/living-jewish/jewish-learning/isnt-bubbies-cheder-anymore

    • Benben

      The board is not represeative of the parent body and not at all sympathetic to concerns of the plebes

    • Wayne Levin

      They can make these decisions because CHAT, like the UJA and (I’m confident) all UJA-funded/affiliated organizations are NOT public institutions despite what they say of themselves. They are not Community institutions. They ARE PRIVATE institutions. This unfortunate but totally predictable event is a direct result of poor governance. It’s not the first time something like this has happened – it won’t be the last unless we change how our(?) community institutions are governed.

  • MJ45

    While I think this type of action needed to be taken, I feel very sorry for the kids at the north campus for how the news was suddenly broken to them and the board was not open about entertaining this solution in advance of it happening. I also feel sorry for the teachers who are now left uncertain about whether they will have a job next year. This is really unfairly stressful to them. However, In my opinion, this is what is necessary financially to keep CHAT afloat in the long run. The tuition was getting outrageous and completely unaffordable. The north building, as far as I know, is a rental (and extremely fancy) while the south one is already owned by CHAT. Therefore, it makes sense to close the north campus, especially if bus service is provided to kids coming from up north. As a CHAT graduate, I can tell you that there was already a decent amount of unoccupied space in the South campus before the new science wing was put in, so I’m pretty confident that the south campus can accommodate the increased number of students.

    • Benben

      Since when does CHAT own the south campus. It’s leased from TDSB. How foolish to go build fancy science wing in a rental. Kids can learn science in a patch of dirt.

    • Benben

      The South campus can acccomodate CHAR since several years ago, pre science wing and pre music facilities and upgraded lockers, it accommodated a huge number of students. The hallways are pretty empty now. There used to be a crush of people. The parking lot is never really full anymore.
      But, why would a kid or parent want to head south in rush hour when that is the very worst time of day and same for getting back home?
      It’s interesting how much money was squandered offering CHAR kids FREE bus to CHAR while CHAT kids had to pay for school busses that were usually very late or else take TTC. And those kids who took TTC often left home by 7 am and arrived back home for 6 and still got their work done.
      It’s a grand myth that all CHAT kids are rich and cliquey. It’s offensive, actually.
      It’s also offensive that a former Board Chair got a grand send off for helping flush the school down the tubes. Supremely offensive given that key staff who were let go did not even get a shtickel of cake or any mention of their contributions over many years.

  • Benben

    Kol hakavod for telling it like it is. CHAT does a great job of turning Jewish oriented kids into atheists. They don’t become self hating Jews, just go on to reject all that was rammed down their throats. Lee Buckman was a proponent of this ramming. If parents did not want this kind of education for their kids, he said the school had the wrong parents.Tuition aside for one moment, it’s a terrible way to run a community school.

  • Nanci Brown

    Oritt, as a CHAT parent, I have to agree. There is so much overhaul that needs to be done to make the school and curriculum relevant and attractive (shorten the school day and make some of the mandatory Jewish studies classes into electives, for starters). However, I am really doubtful that this will happen. Changing the curriculum will impact the teachers and will require union support. Even more challenging will be to find a visionary with the courage to identify the changes, and implement them.

  • Benben

    I have to say that I have wanted to contact Ms Sarick over the last few years to let her in on the truth of what has been happening at CHAT. So many rah rah articles quoting, let’s be honest, alternative facts. The CJN writers should not be publishing unsubstantiated propaganda fed to them by any party, but that is what happened.

    • Bilal

      They would never publish those types of things. Daniel Held – the very person responsible for the demise of Jewish education in Toronto – is closely linked to the CJN editor. Now you know why he has a standing column in the paper, and why there’s never anything in the CJN that is even remotely journalistic/critical of what is happening with Jewish Ed. in Toronto. #ForShame

      • Benben

        Sounds like same reason that the really bad teachers at CHAT get to keep their jobs forever but they let the good ones go. But really, the CJN would never publish anything that could look bad if a non Jewish person were to pick it up for a read.

  • Jo

    It is very sad to read the many posts below, particularly from former CHAT graduates.I would not be interested in paying for a jewish education for my kids to be taught “cultural judaism”, what is that anyway? The Rabbinics and “dogma” being referred to here, is an insult to Judaism irrespective of what your “religious affiliation is”.. utter nonsense! It is our “duty” as parents to ensure our Jewish Heritage survive and one would hope that attending Jewish Day School only inspires our children to be proud of who they are and not to inter-marry as so many “jewish atheists” are doing!

    I sincerely hope the community resolves this unfortunate and rather “shocking news” for both parents, teachers and students north and south and create an environment, where “jewish high school” kids are proud of attending!

    • Benben

      No one said CHAT should ditch Rabbinics or any other Jewish study course. The point is that too much of the time, it’s taught as memorize and spit back or other opinions are mocked. We have to recognize this is a Jewish community school. It’s not a Yeshiva. We have those in the GTA. CHAT should encourage dialogue and alternative views expressed by students. Only then will students have an incentive not to tune out the droning, not to mention lack of respect for diversity within our community.
      And students should not have to take summer courses because that is the only way to do tri sci or take electives that will help them pursue their post secondary goals.

  • Bilal

    Great point, Oritt! UJA would never agree to discuss this out of fear that their donations would decline. But what has happened is far worse. It is all a huge shame.

    • Benben

      If UJA donations declined they would not be able to send all those UJAers on free trips to Israel. They would have to scale down their administrative costs but wouldn’t. This is how institutions fail

  • Avi

    It is rare I get together with other parents of kids in the Jewish school systems where the continuously rising costs of Jewish education does not come up. The move to high school from the lower school system is particularly an area of concern where the price jumps more than 60%. Bottom line is Jewish education is unaffordable and the numbers show it. If we continue the way we are going in 10 years I’ll be surprised if there is still even one Jewish high school for us to debate about. The cost is growing far beyond the rate of inflation and it’s clear there is no ceiling to how high it can rise.
    I’m sure the decision to close a school is not an easy one but if it gives the means for reducing the cost significantly so that all of our kids have a school to go to for the coming years then it needs to be done. Maintaining status quo is not an option. This is about the future of the whole Toronto Jewish community.

  • Beebs

    Solution..Move back to Bathurst Manor!