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Friday, September 4, 2015

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St. Laurent UTT/Herzliah to close next year

Tags: Jewish learning
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MONTREAL — The St. Laurent campus of United Talmud Torahs/Herzliah High School will close at the end of this school year because of the declining enrolment and financial problems that have plagued it for years.

All students and operations will be consolidated at its other campus in Snowdon.

Both the school’s board of directors and Federation CJA have made it clear that this decision, made Oct. 4, is final.

The elementary schools at both campuses have had enrolments well below capacity – in St. Laurent’s case, it has been at only about 50 per cent, for some years.

The two Herzliahs have been in better shape in terms of both enrolment and money, in part because they receive a higher level of government subsidies than schools at the elementary level.

Three years ago, an outcry from parents and the St. Laurent Jewish community led the school’s board to back down from a decision to close the elementary school only, with the proviso that three years more was probably the longest it would remain open.

Now, the high school is also to go. The St. Laurent campus, named for its major benefactor, the Beutel family, opened in 1962.

At that time, the federation, which had recommended the campus merger, made an extraordinary grant of $800,000 over four years to keep the now 114-year-old school system viable.

The UTT/Herzliah system, which includes another elementary and high school with English and French streams at the Snowdon campus, was running a deficit of more than $650,000 in 2007.

The federation has been working with UTT/Herzliah to get it on a stable footing.

The 2007 decision to close the St. Laurent UTT was made after a task force set up by the federation and its agency, the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre, including outside experts, concluded that the school’s enrolment was likely to continue to fall and the mounting deficit was putting the entire system in jeopardy.

Keeping the school open had a symbolic significance for the community because its library was destroyed in a hate-motivated firebombing in 2004. Enrolment dropped in the wake of that incident, and never recovered. Administrators also acknowledged that the drop was the result of a stagnant Jewish population in the area and the fact that more parents were opting for the public system as day school fees rose.

There is one other Jewish elementary school in St. Laurent, École Maïmonide, but it is French.

In 2007, the parents group proposed a plan to reverse the slide in enrolment and find new sources of funds for the school.

Some also believed that closing the Snowdon campus and merging in St Laurent would make more sense because of the lack of other English Jewish schools nearby and the area’s proximity to the West Island, which has 13,000 Jews, many with young families, but no Jewish high school.

Critics point out that the Snowdon facility is also smaller and older, and is in a neighbourhood that is no longer predominantly Jewish, although it is close to the Jewish Community Campus. It also has a higher proportion of tuition-assisted students.

Next school year, free busing, subsidized by the federation, is to be provided from the West Island and St. Laurent to Snowdon.

At one point, there was a rumour that both the St. Laurent and Snowdon campuses would be closed and a new one built on the West Island. In the 1980s, the UTT branch in Chomedey was closed because the number of Jews in the area was down dramatically.

In a full-page ad in this issue of The CJN, UTT/Herzliah president Charles Leibovich says, “The changing demographics of the Jewish community, together with the economic reality, has seriously hampered our ability to run four schools that meet the competitive UTT/Herzliah standards.’”

At a single, larger (in terms of enrolment) school, students will be offered “a broader and richer range of options inside the classroom and beyond, while continuing to thrive in a warm and supportive learning environment where ‘everybody knows everybody’s name.’”

Improved technology, enriched and remedial academic programming, better athletics and more Jewish “experiential” activities are promised.

Plans to renovate the campus are being finalized, the ad says.

“We view this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and are confident that the new UTT/Herzliah will be stronger and better than ever,” Leibovich says.

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