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Letter from school leaders: Change is hard, but community will benefit from CHAT merger

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On March 6, the board of directors of TanenbaumCHAT shared two important pieces of news. The first was that the board had made the difficult decision to merge our two campuses. The second was a $10-million gift from the Jesin-Neuberger Foundation and an anonymous gift of $4 million that will allow tuition to be reduced to $18,500 next year, and to remain under $19,000 for the next five years.

While we recognize the amount of change is significant and has caused concern, we are confident that the long-term benefit the community will reap as a result of these two bold moves will be worth it.

The board, made up predominately of parents from both south and north of Steeles Ave., has for a number of years struggled to sustain a two-campus model – in spite of declining enrolment in the north.

READ: BUSTING OPEN THE DOOR TO LOWER DAY SCHOOL TUITION

In early 2015, we launched an unprecedented attempt to more than triple the school’s fundraising campaigns and an aggressive recruitment plan to reverse the downward enrolment trend. Yet, when the application deadline passed in December we had received far fewer applications to our north campus than we had projected. Future enrolment projections looked even worse, because the number of students in our feeder schools continues to decline. 

Tuition would have had to rise well above $30,000 per year to preserve the viability of the school. This would have been intolerable for many in our community. 

Fortuitously, the donors offered their gifts just as accurate student projections were arriving. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto projects that a 33 per cent reduction in tuition will stimulate enrolment, and these gifts allow this to be possible. 

By moving to protect the long-term viability of TanenbaumCHAT, merging campuses and reducing tuition in time to attract new students for the coming school year, we also hoped to protect as many teaching positions as possible. 

The size of the teaching staff has always depended on student enrolment, regardless of the number of campuses, and under our collective agreement with our teachers’ unions, the date to issue layoff notices has always been April 1 or 15 oFr Passover, depending on the union. 

The campus consolidation will have many benefits. We have engaged change management experts and formulated an integration plan to build a vibrant and durable TanenbaumCHAT that will allow us to educate the next generation. 

READ: LETTER FROM A PAINED STUDENT ON CHAT NORTH’S CLOSURE

Merging enables the school to run courses too small to be viable on two separate campuses. This will increase the range of academic opportunities, particularly upper-level electives. As well, a combined student body will allow us to resurrect the co-curricular and extracurricular activities threatened due to depleted enrolment. A robust range of teams, clubs and performances is one of TanenbaumCHAT’s signature characteristics. 

Consolidation will reduce duplicated costs and eliminate other inefficiencies in fixed costs, thereby keeping tuition under control. And combined enrolment means that students will have the opportunity to interact with a larger number of peers. 

It is time to move forward. We see a financially secure, one-campus school as the opportunity to extend the reach of TanenbaumCHAT to the greatest number of Jewish students, whether north or south of Steeles. We envision one vibrant address where students of all denominational backgrounds come together for an academic experience of the highest calibre, one that anchors teenagers in Jewish values and Jewish peoplehood and provides a wide range of excellent curricular and extracurricular opportunities. 

READ: ONTARIO FUNDING POLICIES – NOT CHAT CLOSURE – THREATEN JEWISH EDUCATION 

The transition plan is well underway. Its goal is simple: to build one unified school culture and ensure that every student benefits from all that the school offers. Our vision is to transform TanenbaumCHAT into an even stronger, more diverse institution that will meet the broad range of needs, interests and talents of all students. This requires the active involvement of all stakeholders – students, parents, staff, and community members. 

It is in this spirit that we invite you to become part of the building process. Together we will put the “unity” back into “community.”

Ray Rubin is president of the board and Rabbi Lee Buckman is head of school at TanenbaumCHAT.