Rain and wind failed to dampen the spirits of some 250 students and teachers from the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto’s northern Kimel campus (TCK) who descended on the community’s central Jewish address April 6 to protest the closure of their school.
Spirited cries of “Save our school,” “Save our teachers,” and “Save TCK” filled the damp air outside the Lipa Green Centre on Bathurst Street during the noon-hour demonstration. Passing cars honked horns in approval.
The crowd then streamed inside the building that houses UJA Federation of Greater Toronto for more boisterous chanting and speeches.
The passion mirrored the strong emotions of students and staff since the March 6 announcement that TanenbaumCHAT would close its northern campus in Vaughan this June and merge it with its original branch on Wilmington Avenue in Downsview next fall.
At the same time, the school’s board announced a $10-million gift from the Jesin-Neuberger Foundation and an anonymous gift of $4 million that will reduce tuition to $18,500 next year and keep it under $19,000 for the next five years.
The tuition break has not seemed to assuage students and teachers at the northern branch, who say the closure would rob York Region’s growing Jewish community of a Jewish high school. They also complain parents, students and the community were kept in the dark until the merger was announced.
Adding to the tension was the recent announcement that some 30 teachers at both campuses will be laid off as a result of the merger and declining enrolment.
TCK students and staff at the Kimel branch have launched a grassroots campaign that implores the school’s board of directors to hold off on the “drastic” merger decision and allow for one “transition year” to be supported by emergency donations that TCK parents hope to raise.
“TCK parents are not asking TanenbaumCHAT for money, they are securing donors,” said a statement from the Save TCK campaign.
They say the immediate need is for $4.5 million for the upcoming academic year.
Save TCK says it presented “a detailed proposal” to the board of directors on March 21, “only to be summarily dismissed.”
The committee claims the school has been running an operating surplus over several years. “Given that the closure of the school will lead to significant shutdown costs and lawsuits, we ask that they explain whether that would be a good use of these funds.”
The group wants the TanenbaumCHAT board to co-operate with UJA Federation, which Save TCK says can act as “an honest broker [to] help resolve this crisis.”
Demographic studies show that more and more young Jewish families are moving to Vaughan, Richmond Hill, King City and beyond, said a letter read aloud from the Save TCK Student Committee. “With TanenbaumCHAT retreating to… its original location in North York, it looks like it’s moving away from the Jewish community.”
Despite the school’s claims of a high retention rate of students at the single southern campus, “We know that this will not be the case. Some of our friends have already withdrawn, feeling that the community has abandoned them, turning to public schools even with the reduced tuition,” the student committee stated.
“The door is closing on their Jewish education. We cannot let this happen. It is not too late.”
One parent of a teacher lambasted federation CEO Adam Minsky, saying, to cheers, that the school was “mismanaged and top-heavy. When you say care about Jewish education up north, I doubt it very much.”
He said he would withdraw his donation to UJA.
Minsky said decisions were made by the school’s board, which operates independently from federation, “and they are the ones that will have to give you answer as to how they made those decisions, and the timing.”
Federation, he said, allocates a quarter of the funds it raises to Jewish education and tuition subsidies – about $12 million.
Asked by The CJN whether the merger move has resulted in depressed donations to UJA, Minsky said, “We haven’t seen that yet. I haven’t received a volume of emails. As long as our communications are clear about what we’re dong in the north and how we’re working on this, [the merger] won’t have a particularly significant effect [on fundraising].”
Minsky said federation is “very much committed to Jewish education in York Region and working with people there to make sure there’s an option for a high school.”
The day before the rally, TanenbaumCHAT head of school Rabbi Lee Buckman sent an email to parents saying the protest was “not a school-sanctioned or supervised event.”