The reality of declining enrolment and the merging of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto’s two campuses hit home as teacher layoffs were announced March 30.
Aviva Polonsky, head of the Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools, said about 30 teachers in total were laid off, while a teacher at the school’s northern campus who requested anonymity said between 20 and 22 teachers from the general studies program received notices.
The two campuses have a common staff seniority list, which means that primarily younger teachers have been affected.
“Many of the people let go are among the most popular and gifted teachers, some of them with nine and 10 years of dedicated service to the school, many of whom are very involved in the school’s rich extra-curricular program,” the teacher at the north campus said.
Last month, TanenbaumCHAT’s board announced that continued declining enrolment made it necessary to close the northern Kimel campus (TCK) in Vaughan and merge it with the southern campus in Bathurst Manor for September 2017. At the same time, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto announced $15 million in donations that have enabled the school to slash tuition by one-third, to $18,500 for the coming year and then freeze tuition at $19,000 for the next four years.
Under the teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, the school must inform teachers by April 1 if they’re not being re-hired. Enrolment at the merged school is expected to be about 850 students, administrators have said, down from the current 966 on both campuses this year,
But Rabbi Lee Buckman, head of school, said in an email that it’s still too early to tell what the enrolment at the single campus will actually be next fall, though there will be fewer students total than this year.
Sharon Wrock, president of the Association of Hebrew School Educators, which represents 91 general studies teachers at the two campuses, said in an interview that the union has not yet decided if it will join a complaint filed to the Ontario Labour Relations Board by the association representing the Jewish studies teachers alleging the school negotiated in bad faith.
The legal remedy for such a complaint is usually an order to return to negotiations, Wrock said. Since talks are ongoing, with another session scheduled for April 4, the union is waiting, she said.
Parents’ efforts to delay the closing of TCK for at least one year – to either prove the school is viable or ensure a more orderly merger – are also continuing. The group, Save TCK, continues to campaign in support of the northern campus, despite being rebuffed by the school’s board of directors.
Keeping TCK open would cost about $4.5 million annually. The committee has conditional pledges of $500,000 and has lined up several large donors, with whom “serious discussions were ongoing,” according to an email from the committee.
The group also has a proposal from the York Entrepreneurship Development Institute (YEDI) to set up a business accelerator centre on the campus. “While the YEDI opportunity would significantly reduce TanenbaumCHAT’s operating costs while adding to TCK’s extracurricular activities, making it more appealing to students, the board chose to ignore this proposal,” the committee said.
In a email to The CJN, board president Ray Rubin responded that SaveTCK’s proposal did not address concerns about the long-term viability of the school. The YEDI proposal was “an example of a one-off measure that would, optimistically, have covered approximately one per cent of the yearly operating deficit the school faced.”
Rubin said parent representatives were invited to join the school’s recruitment and development committees.
However, the school cannot maintain its “excellent academic program and broad and vibrant extracurricular offering,” unless it consolidates, she said.