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Gray AcademyBy BERNIE BELLAN

Elsewhere on this website we have a  report on a lawsuit filed by the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education against two parents of children who had previously been enrolled in Gray Academy.
Without delving again into the specifics of that particular lawsuit, the notion that tuition levels at Gray Academy may be such that they are preventing parents who might otherwise want to send their children to that school from doing so leads to an entire series of questions.


For one, it would be interesting to know how many parents have pulled their children from Gray Academy over the years, either to send them to a Hebrew Bilingual program (which now is available only at Brock Corydon School) or to another school because of tuition levels at Gray Academy.

As one might expect, gathering data of that sort is almost completely reliant upon anecdotal evidence. While there has been a marked increase in enrolment at Brock Corydon over the past five years, and there has been a corresponding drop in enrolment at Gray Academy, it is not possible to draw a direct correlation between the two. It is quite possible, for instance, that many parents have chosen to enroll their children in the Hebrew Bilingual program at Brock Corydon without much consideration, if any, having been given to enrolling them at Gray Academy.

But, if there are parents for whom the tuition levels at Gray Academy have been particularly onerous, one needs to ask just how much of an impact tuition levels have had on those parents’ decisions where to send their children to school?
I took a detailed look at annual reports for Gray Academy for the past three school years (all of which are available on the Gray Academy website). As well, I looked at information also readily available on the school’s website about the number of staff employed at that school.
I readily admit that my reporting on Gray Academy in the past couple of years has greatly antagonized many individuals who either work for the school or who are closely associated with it. Previously I have suggested that Gray Academy is top heavy with administrators - and other personnel who are superfluous to the actual business of educating. As far as the teaching staff goes, however, I admit that I have no particular knowledge of the competency of teachers.
But, it’s not my role to serve as a cheerleader for Gray Academy – or any other Jewish organization in this city. When I argue – as I have in the past, that Gray Academy is top heavy with administrators, I simply rely upon information that is readily available on that school’s website.

There are only 406 students enrolled at Gray Academy from Grades 1-12.  As I have also been reporting, Gray Academy enrollment is down 25% from what it was six years ago. Yet, the Gray Academy website lists 74 individual staff members for those 406 students. That is a ratio of almost one staff member for every five students. Again, I am not in a position to comment whether that is an inordinately high proportion of staff to students. But, considering that Gray Academy once had almost 900 students, one wonders how the school was ever able to function back then without such a high  staff complement.
In that respect though, Gray Academy is not much different from many other Jewish organizations in this city that have seen their bureaucracies grow hugely over time.
Still, here are just some of the titles of staff listed on Gray Academy’s website: Head of School,  High School Principal, Elementary School Principal, Judaic Studies Advisor, Director of Marketing & Communications,  Director of Admissions, Director of Teaching & Learning. To be fair, it is not possible to determine from the website alone how many of those positions are full time and how many are part time. Nevertheless, one might well ask: Why so many administrators for a school whose enrolment has dropped so substantially over the years?

Returning to the subject of tuition though, the Gray Academy 2017/18 Annual Report sheds some interesting light upon  sources of revenue for the school. For instance, total revenues for the school came to $6,935,928 in the 2017-18 school year.
Of that amount parental contributions made up only 42% of school revenue in the past school year. Provincial government contributions made up 36% of revenue, allocations from the Jewish Federation made up 16%, while the rest was made up from other sources, including the Jewish Foundation.
According to the Annual Report, however, grants from the Jewish Foundation amounted to only 1% of revenue, or roughly $69,000. However, when the Jewish Foundation released information to this newspaper this past summer about designated grants and undesignated grants that were to be given to Gray Academy this school year – and it is the very first time the Jewish Foundation has released comprehensive information about both those types of grants, it was revealed that the Jewish Foundation would be giving a substantial amount more to Gray Academy this school year: over $360,000. Based on Gray Academy’s own annual report, that would amount to a huge increase in funding from the Foundation.

So – what does this have to do with tuition levels? Quite a bit, as a matter of fact.  According to last year’s annual report, the average amount of tuition paid per child amounted  to only $5,973. (The top level of tuition payable is $10,425, while the minimum payable is $2,925.) That means there was quite a large amount of bursary assistance given to parents.
Now, here’s the rub: There are a great many newcomers to our community – mostly from Israel, for whom sending their children to Gray Academy is not at all a priority. Many of those parents live far from the school; for others, the importance of receiving a Hebrew education is hardly important when their children are already living in a Hebrew-speaking environment. For others, receiving a Jewish education is not important since they lead largely secular lives.

Yet, some of those same parents, under the right circumstances,  would likely choose to send their kids to Gray Academy. But many of those parents may not qualify for sufficient bursary assistance under present Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education guidelines that would prompt them to enroll their children at Gray Academy.
Yet, because enrollment at Gray Academy is so much lower than it used to be, class sizes have also shrunk, especially in the lower grades. There are now many classes that have only 15 or 16 students. Would it cost any more to have a class of 20 or 21 students? I’m not sure of the answer, but logic dictates that it shouldn’t result in any further increase in costs.

Wouldn’t it make sense to do everything possible, therefore, to encourage those Israeli newcomers to send their children to Gray Academy, thus increasing average class sizes without causing any significant increase in cost to the school? Unfortunately, under the present criteria used to determine bursary assistance many of those parents may not qualify for sufficient assistance, so they simply opt to send their children elsewhere.

But, what if Gray Academy were to have a two-tier tuition structure: A higher level for students in the high school and a lower level for elementary school students. By doing that Gray Academy might be able to encourage some families for whom paying much less in tuition might be the pivotal factor in their sending their children to Gray Academy. And - since it's fundamentally important to have children enrolled in Grade 1 (since the likelihood of their enrolling in later grades is much reduced), why not do everything possible to entice those parents to enrol their children in Grade 1?

That step, combined with a combination of cuts to a bloated administration and a more proactive approach to understanding the different situation many Israeli newcomers are in, i.e. they may hold significant assets which preclude them from obtaining sufficient financial assistance at the same time that they are highly indebted, Gray Academy may be able to encourage more Israelis to send their children to that school. It would be a win-win for both the school and the parents.

Suing Israeli parents for non-payment of tuition though is highly unlikely to send the right message to Israelis who have come here and who are not used to the idea of paying anything at all for a Jewish education. As much as members of the WBJE  might be furious at all the unexpected negative publicity (especially within the Israeli community here) its lawsuit has garnered now that the CC - in addition to this newspaper, has reported on it, perhaps those same members of the WBJE  might want to be more open to ideas for changing the way Gray Academy is run.