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BernieBy BERNIE BELLAN One of the great advantages of working at a newspaper is you don’t have to get out all that much in order to write stories. It goes without saying that the telephone and email make it so much easier to be in touch with just about anyone.

But, it’s often the case that bumping into people gives me interesting story ideas. I don’t know how many times someone has said  to me: “Why don’t you do a story about…?” Sometimes I have to beg off simply because, while a particular idea might be good, it’s not germane to a Jewish newspaper. In other cases a story may involve delving into a personal complaint that someone might have about some perceived unfairness that has happened - either to that individual or to someone that person knows. (I can just imagine how many calls or emails someone like Gordon Sinclair at the Free Press must get asking him to look into a particular situation.)
It’s not easy to dismiss anyone’s request for help or intervention in a certain instance – even when that request may seem quite far fetched. Often, those cases deal with some aspect of the health care system. What I almost always do though – and it’s because I’m reluctant to dismiss anyone’s complaint out of hand, is take those complaints seriously, but try to work behind the scenes where possible to address the complaints. By now, I’m used to contacting media spokespersons for various levels of the health care system – and other bureaucratic agencies. My experience has been that, while those spokespersons often attempt to obfuscate, they do respond to my requests for information in a timely manner.

But, when it comes to dealing with our own Jewish bureaucracies here in Winnipeg, the situation is somewhat different. I’ve written several times before about the entrenchment that has occurred within the various levels of organizations that have developed within our Jewish community – to the point where several organizations have managed to create powerful support networks that seem to protect them from suggestions they ought to change.
But, to whom can you address your concerns? To board members? To administrators? It’s not at all clear who bears ultimate responsibility for decisions taken within our Jewish organizations.
Recently a friend said to me: Why don’t I take on the very large administrative structure of the Gray Academy? That person suggested that, despite the steady drop in enrolment that the Gray Academy has been suffering the past several years (and about which I’ve written extensively in the past: i.e., Enrolment at the Gray Academy has dropped from  604 in 2010 to 466 this year). Despite that drop though, the school has even more  administrators than it did when enrolment was much higher.
I took a look at the Gray Academy staff directory online. There are 89 names given in that directory. That means there is a 5 to 1 ratio of students to teachers and other support personnel. Included among those personnel are the following: A CEO and Head of Studies, a High School Principal, an Elementary Principal, a Director of Teaching & Learning, a Judaic Studies Advisor, a Judaic Programming Coordinator, a Director of Admissions, a Director of Marketing & Communications, and at least seven department heads - all this for a school with only 466 students?
Yet, each year, when it comes time for the Budget and Allocations Committee of the Jewish Federation to decide how much to give to each of the agencies that are supported by the Jewish Federation, the Gray Academy has been receiving at least as much as it has in previous years. While the Jewish Federation may have embarked upon on an ambitious planning process – one about which Faye Rosenberg-Cohen has written in the past several issues, I’m afraid that when it comes to the Gray Academy, that institution has become the most sacred of many sacred cows in this community.
In the past, when I’ve made  similar points about the Gray Academy in this column, I’ve been accused by some  of attacking Jewish education in this city – as if the idea of attempting to rationalize services in an institution that has suffered a tremendous drop in users is somehow a subject that is not open to discussion. Despite what I would argue that what is needed now is a very necessary reduction in the number of staff at the Gray Academy, I predict that is not going to occur – for the reason that I suggested earlier: The Gray Academy has developed a formidable support network within our Jewish community that has protected it from any suggestion that it ought to be undergoing any reduction in funding. Yet, there are other organizations within our community that have seen substantial increases in the number of individuals using them and which  ought to be deserving of further funding. We’ll see in five months time whether the all-powerful Budget and Allocations Committee is willing to take the courageous step of reducing its allotment to the Gray Academy while increasing it to other beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation. At the very least the Gray Academy ought to be looking at reducing the excessive number of administrators it has.

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