Driven in part by an unanticipated influx of families from Alberta and the Lower Mainland, enrolment in School District 69 has jumped by more than 100 students over a year ago, superintendent Rollie Koop told the SD69 Board of Trustees during their regular meeting Tuesday in Parksville.
“The message we’re hearing is that we’re seeing an influx of families from both Alberta and from the lower mainland into our community, which is good news,” said Koop. “The stability and growth is at the elementary level; it’s really a bright picture. We’re up over last year, and we’re up over the projections we made, which were quite conservative.”
The enrolment numbers were taken from the district’s count at the end of September, which is used to apply for block grant funding from the Ministry of Education. It showed an increase of 77 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, the figure used for funding calculations, over September 2014. The actual head count, not including learners in the Distributed Learning program, was up 101 students. Koop said he has spoken to his counterparts in other Vancouver Island school districts and has heard the same tale of incoming families from the east.
“It’s not just Parksville Qualicum. Nobody on the Island anticipated this influx of Albertans either returning or relocating,” he said. “We all knew there was an economic downturn in Alberta, but we had no reason to expect that would draw a straight line to increased enrolment in our district.”
Whether or not that trend will continue long-term is unknown, but the district’s enrolment projection tool does show a favourable outlook for the next five years, Koop said. “If there’s a one-year-old in our community, we know about it,” he said. “Beyond that, it’s hard to project, because those children haven’t been born yet.”
The increases are spread unevenly across the district, and some buildings actually saw a drop in enrolment, according to the district enrolment report compiled Oct. 2. Overall elementary enrolment is up 74 students, with Arrowview Elementary picking up a net gain of 69. That was offset by a decline of 26 students at Qualicum Beach Elementary and a net drop of 36 students at Oceanside Elementary — which actually saw enrolment in its immersion program increase by 18 students.
The increase at the secondary level is a modest seven students, though the numbers in the International Student Program are back to 2013 levels after dropping off by about 20 a year ago, when the school year began under the cloud of job action.
“Our ISP numbers are up by about 26 over last year, but that’s not an indicator of a growth trend,” Koop told trustees. “If you go back two years, our numbers at this time would have been about the same. Last year was an anomaly because of the job action. You have to look at this year not as growth, but as a rebound.
Errington Elementary, which saw a jump from 281 students in 2014 to 319 last month, is the only school at full capacity under ministry guidelines, Koop said. But the building itself does have additional space if needed, he added.
“The rated capacity is 319 students, but if you go out and look at the room we have for classes, that tells you we could put 340-some kids in that building,” Koop said. “That particular school is at 100 per cent rated capacity, but there’s room to add.”
The year-over-year enrolment increase will not result in more grant money for the district, which was under the Ministry of Education’s Funding Protection. That protection ensures districts in long-term decline never receive less than 98.5 per cent of the grant they received the previous year.