The board of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto has rejected a detailed plan from a parent group that’s seeking to keep the school’s northern branch open, while a teachers union has filed a labour complaint alleging the school negotiated in bad faith about the campus closure.
Earlier this month, TanenbaumCHAT’s board announced that continued declining enrolment made it necessary to close the Kimel campus (TCK) and merge it with the southern campus for September 2017. At the same time, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto announced a $15-million donation, which would enable 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.
On March 24, the board rejected a proposal from a parent committee called Save TCK! that outlined a campaign to raise the estimated $4 million needed to keep the school open annually as well as recommended changes to the school’s board.
The committee’s strategy called for $3 million to be raised from larger donors and a grassroots fundraising campaign. Once $3 million is raised, the federation, which would hold the funds in trust for the northern campus and would only release the money if certain conditions were met, would be asked to contribute $1 million.
Those conditions included establishing parents’ associations at both campuses with sub-committees focused on fundraising, marketing, recruitment and cost-saving reviews, and the early election of six additional members to the board of directors. A non-voting representative of federation would also sit on the board.
The proposal also called for the launch of “an aggressive campaign to increase enrolment at both campuses at the reduced fee structure” for the next two years.
“This is about not giving up on the growing young Jewish community north of Toronto,” the proposal states.
As part of its proposal, the committee noted “no comprehensive transition plan [for the branch merger] is in place yet, despite less than six months from the start of the new school year, (including 10 weeks of summer break).”
The board rejected the proposal, arguing it did not guarantee the long-term viability of the campus. In a letter to the committee, it stated the proposal “does not contain any assurance of donor support (at an unprecedented level) continuing to be available beyond the one-year period.” The plan also did not address declining enrolment in the feeder schools.
A number of northern campus parents have also indicated that even if both campuses were to remain open, they’d choose the southern campus, which has a larger student body and can offer more programs and stability, the board stated.
The southern campus currently has 585 students, while the northern one has 381. Projected post-merger enrolment next fall is 850.
The parents’ committee refuted the board’s objections, stating in a letter, “we are asking for a tacit mandate from the board to permit us to try to meet fundraising targets while you continue the transition plan.” The Save TCK! committee asked for a response by March 27.
Meanwhile, on March 24, the Federation of Teachers in Hebrew Schools, which represents 51 Jewish studies teachers at both campuses, filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board alleging the school negotiated in bad faith. While the complaint cannot be made public, president Aviva Polonsky said the closure should have been discussed during labour talks, which are ongoing.
Sharon Wrock, president of the Association of Hebrew School Educators, which represents 91 general studies teachers at both branches, said she was surprised to hear about the complaint, since the two groups had agreed to work together. Her union will decide this week whether to also file a complaint.
According to the collective agreement, the school needs to inform teachers by April 1 if they won’t be re-hired, or pay them severance. While a “significant number” of teachers will be let go because of the merger, Wrock said, an even larger number will be declared surplus initially and then re-hired, to avoid the severance payments.