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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Layoffs needed to ensure JPPS-Bialik’s future, leaders say

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Bialik High School is planning a deep reduction in staff next fall. [Bialik High School website photo]

MONTREAL — Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools-Bialik High School (JPPS) says it has to cut about 35 jobs, the great majority of them teaching positions, because of falling enrolment.

Its board defends the move as “fiscally responsible” and necessary to ensure the system’s “long-term financial strength.”

“Matching staffing levels and resources to the student population allows us to ensure our resources are allocated where they will have the greatest benefit for our children and allows us to continue to provide a quality education,” the school said in a statement.

Parents were surprised to learn from an April 4 Gazette story that the school is laying off two permanent and 21 non-tenured, some of them part-time, Bialik teachers after this school year. That’s about one-third of its teaching staff.

At JPPS, five tenured and about five non-tenured teachers are being let go. All teachers who are losing their jobs will be notified by the end of April.

Some of the non-tenured teachers may be recalled, if it’s found in the fall that they’re needed.

Four administrative positions are being eliminated at Bialik, while two are being added.

School officials did not return calls from The CJN for an interview.

Enrolment at Bialik is going down significantly, from the current 546 to an expected 486 next year. JPPS, which now has 362 students, is expected to lose 25 in 2012-2013.

JPPS-Bialik is the largest Jewish day school in Montreal. The school says it does not have a deficit now and wants to stay in the black.

Deciding which staff will go was made on the basis of resources needed in each subject and for each grade, as well as collective agreement obligations such as seniority, tenure and required notice, the school said.

JPPS is switching to a two-stream system, which means two classes per grade. The average class size will be 22 to 24 children.

“The future of JPPS is bright. We have a lot to be proud of… But we will not rest on our laurels as we continue to strive to strengthen our educational program,” the statement reads.

In a separate mailing to parents, co-presidents Neil Creme and David Shapiro said a “reorganization plan” for the school will take effect July 1. The goal is to “streamline head office administration to make it as lean as possible” and “to align the number of teachers, support staff, classes and resources in our schools with the current population, to reduce expenditures and be fiscally responsible.”

JPPS-Bialik already underwent a major shakeup of its professional administration with the appointment this past year of a new chief administrative officer, Kevin Lukian, who was for 10 years director general of the Riverside School Board on the South Shore, as well as the appointment of Ken Scott, a veteran public school educator and former principal of Heritage Regional High School in St. Hubert as Bialik principal, and Adina Matas as JPPS director of education.

They form the school’s new “leadership council.”

JPPS-Bialik is in the midst of what it calls strategic planning. It has hired – with the support of Federation CJA’s Bronfman Jewish Education Centre – the Victoria, B.C.-based management consulting firm Berlin Eaton to help determine its future direction.

A series of consultations with parents, students, faculty and administrators (past and present), alumni and donors is scheduled to be held this month with Berlin Eaton representatives.

Last November, JPPS-Bialik and United Talmud Torahs-Herzliah High Schools officially shelved a plan to merge, after less than a year of talks. The plan, promoted by the federation, was to create one affordable, bilingual “community” school more suited to the changing Montreal Jewish demographics.

The merger plan also included the construction of a middle school in Snowdon and a high school on the West Island.

Mordechai Antal, president of the Federation of Teachers of Jewish Schools, the union representing JPPS-Bialik staff, said what is happening should be a wakeup call to the community.

“I think the Jewish community and its leaders have to reflect very hard about Jewish education… We are at a crisis point. Clearly, enrolment is dropping in the mainstream English schools.

“More money has to raised and distributed to the schools, or there will be no Jewish education, and that is what has sustained Jewish life for 3,300 years. Jewish education must be the top priority.”

He thinks the West Island high school idea should be revived. Antal, who lives in the area, believes many students from the West Island are opting out of the Jewish school system because they must travel into Montreal.

“I’m not saying that money should just be poured into the system,” he added. “There have to be better schools, better programs, better facilities, smaller classes. The Jewish schools are not keeping up with changes taking place in education. Those families that can afford it are sending their kids to [other] private schools. Those who can’t, which includes much of the middle class, are facing the tough decision between public schools and Jewish schools.

“I think the situation is solvable if all stakeholders [engage in] some creative thinking – right now. Everything has to be on the table. This is not a time for half measures.”

Antal believes that the confusion last year over the merger plan was a factor in some parents’ decision to leave JPPS-Bialik.

Labour problems have hit another Jewish educational institution. Since March 30, the 20 unionized educators of the CPE Maimonide Côte St. Luc have been locked out.

The Union des employés et employees de service, local 800, and the CPE, which is located in Ecole Maïmonide, have been in contract talks since November.

The union is seeking a 2.5 per cent salary increase for the educators. There is also a dispute over the number of paid holidays and leave days per year, and the union has rejected a demand that the work week increase to 35 and 37.5 hours, depending on the season, instead of the current 32.

 

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