"My house is 14 years old and the basement still isn't finished.
So when the first tuition bill for my son's university education
came, I was very happy," says Bonnie Kates.
That doesn't make much sense until Kates explains that the university
tuition fees are less of a financial burden than his private-school
fees were. Both of her sons attended private schools, and the Kates
family had to make some significant financial sacrifices to make
Some parents can handle the fees at private and independent schools
without problem; for others, significant sacrifices are necessary
to give their children the kind of education they've chosen. For
every family, the bottom line is that the money parents invest in
private-school education could be used for something else.
When Rowena McDougall and her husband, working professionals with
three children, decided Rowena would re-enter the workforce, they
had to decide how to use the extra family income. Their sons Andrew,
now 20, and David, now 18, were about to enter high school; their
16-year-old daughter, Kelly, was six at the time.
McDougall says she didn't decide to go back to work so they
could afford to send the children to private school. She wanted
to return to work to fulfil her own professional goals. So when
they knew extra income would begin flowing in, McDougall says, "it
was a question of what are we going to do with this extra salary?
Put it into a house, into mutual funds? No, we're going to
invest it in the boys."
With tuition at the boys' chosen school, Crescent School in
Willowdale, running at $12,000 a year each when they started and
$13,000 by the end of their high-school careers, McDougall says
the biggest sacrifice her family made was to put their desire for
a larger house on the back burner. Their children's future
was, without question, the most important thing to them, she says.
Since then, Kelly has been enrolled in Havergal College, where
the annual tuition is $14,950.
With the boys graduated from Crescent School, the McDougalls have seen
their investment pay off. "What we were buying was an insurance
policy in the form of training. It was a relief when the boys came
back from university and told us that what they encountered was
no more difficult than anything they tackled at Crescent."
The situation of single-mom Susan Blayney is quite different from
that of the McDougalls. Although her former husband has always paid
child support for their daughter, Brigitte, Blayney's decision
to send her to the all-girls Linden School, with its $10,400 annual
tuition, was one she'd have to fly solo financially. And she
has since Brigitte completed Grade 3.
A nurse counsellor at the Bay Centre for Birth Control, Blayney
says that at the time she was paying down a mortgage and holding
her own financially. She justified the cost of private-school tuition, $6,000 back then, because she was already paying a large chunk of income - $4,000 a year - for day
care. Tuition for private school also included after-school care.
"That was the year (former provincial premier Mike) Harris
came into power, so I was concerned about whether there was going
to be a (public school) teachers' strike in the fall."
It was important to her that Brigitte attend a school that wouldn't
be affected by the looming teachers' strike. So she sacrificed
privacy by taking in foreign-student boarders and dealt with the
mishaps that sometimes come along with tenants. "You can't
always shower when you want and one day one of my tenants picked
up a rice cooker at a garage sale for what she thought was a bargain
price. It was full of cockroaches."
But Blayney had trouble keeping the room rented and after a couple
of years realized that she was sinking into debt. At that point,
she applied to Linden for a bursary. She received $4,000, which
subsidized a substantial portion of the tuition fees. Since then,
her income has risen. Last year she received a $1,900 bursary to
help out with the $9,100 tuition.
Blayney, who once belonged to the United Church, says that in the
non-denominational Linden School she has found an institution that communicates
values in which she believes, including respect for diversity, anti-racism
and anti-sexism. Linden is crucial to Brigitte's development
because it's a place where she is accepted for who she is,
"At Linden , they actually live their mission statement."
Linden describes itself as a woman-centred school that reflects,
responds to and promotes the experience, voice and development of
women in its policies, structures,program and curriculum. "It
is an enriched environment and, at the time, I thought even if I
can only afford to 4 send Brigitte there for Grades 4 and 5, that
will be fine."
Blayney says that since she decided to sell her house and buy one
with a friend who shares the mortgage payments, her lifestyle has
changed for the better. She's still sacrificing living space,
but her mortgage payments are lower, she shares house expenses with
her friend and she no longer needs to take in tenants.
Since 1998, she has sacrificed her spare time by working part-time
in addition to her regular 9-to-5 job and earns an extra $2,000
to $3,000 a year. Although her mortgage and home expenses are less
now, the amount of time she must dedicate to her part-time job has
increased because of new responsibilities and that means less time
for herself as well as less time spent with Brigitte.
"Brigitte goes to school with very affluent children but she
knows that Linden is a tradeoff. Even if I could afford to give
her everything she wanted, I don't know that I would.... I've
been driving a 15-year-old car and just got rid of it because it
rusted out. The car was embarrassing. I just bought a five-year-old
car, which will hopefully last."
Meanwhile, Liza Horowitz is at the beginning of her experience
private-school system. As a full-time working mother of two young
children, aged three and five, Horowitz says she considered enrolling
them in community-run programs for children under four. But that
would have made it very difficult for her to plan her work schedule;
the length of classes varied from 45 minutes to two hours maximum
and she would have had to enter a lottery for admission every four
months. In addition, it was difficult to transport her children
to and from the programs and with children under three, the programs
demanded a caregiver accompany the child.
Now, her five-year-old is in junior kindergarten at a parochial
school for five half-days a week - at a cost of $3,300 a year
- and also is in a kindergarten class at another school for
three half-days a week at a cost of $2,460 a year. Her three-year-old
attends pre-school for two half-days a week, at a cost of $1,640
"You can't plan out five days per week for the whole
year unless you pay," Horowitz says.
Horowitz says lost friendships is one of the prices she's paying
for having her kids in private school. She makes friends with other
parents in her kids' schools, only to find that once her friends
have three or more children, they can no longer afford the school
and move their kids to the public system, so the parents' paths
no longer cross.
She and her husband have made the typical sacrifices - they
don't go out much and they don't go on vacation. And private
schools often also call on parents to offer time in addition to
money. "There is a lot of teamwork among the school, parents
and children," says Horowitz. "In their eyes, there is
no such thing as being too busy for your kids."
As great as the sacrifices have been, Horowitz says they're
worth it because of the learning environment her children are exposed
to. "Eventually, (kids) all learn their alphabets, but it's
the environment. You hope the philosophy will be instilled and that's
The school emphasizes community work and parent involvement and
teaches the children that they're lucky to have what they have
and be where they are, Horowitz says. "It's a very hands-on
approach and every part of their curriculum involves giving to others."
Bonnie and Michael Kates's eldest son, Marc, now 26, always
went to a private school and they say it really paid off for him.
He was used to a heavy workload, so he was well prepared for the
reading and work required at the post-secondary level.
Their youngest son, Lonny, now 21, started in the private Community
Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT), but switched to public school
for Grades 3 to 8.
During Lonny's initial stint in a private school, Bonnie Kates
recognized that he was learning research skills as early as Grade
2. "We took him to the library on three or four occasions.
He was doing better projects and better presentations (than his
Once he switched to a public school, the Kateses were sure he
would continue in the system, especially since a new public high
school had been built in their neighbourhood. They began to fantasize
about using the saved tuition money to renovate their basement.
But the unexpected happened. Lonny told them that he wanted to transfer
back to CHAT. Because Lonny showed initiative by researching prerequisites
and setting up interviews, the Kateses felt certain he was serious
about his decision.
"We'd never had a finished basement, why start now?"
Bonnie Kates asks with a laugh.
The transitional Grade 9 year was a challenge for Lonny, and Kates
admits that she was unsure Lonny would reap the same rewards from
private school as his brother had. But Grade 10 at CHAT was a different
story altogether. Lonny's perseverance and dedication paid
off and he went to being an A student from being a C student.
Kates and her husband made the necessary sacrifices and watched
their friends move ahead of them financially. "When we moved
into our first house, our friends were moving up to their second
house." But when the Kateses were ready to move up from that
first townhouse, they had already paid it off, "so we were
in a much better position when we purchased our second home."
Those sacrifices don't compare to the satisfaction the Kateses
experienced when their sons returned home after having done extremely
well in first-year university. "They juggled 11 subjects in
high school, so five subjects in university was light by comparison.
realized that they were better prepared for university."
The Kateses are still driving cars that are more than 14 years
old. As for that basement renovation.... Well, eventually it will
OurKids.net offers a list of private schools with tuition assistance programs.