For the second straight year, enrolment is up in School District 69 (Qualicum) schools. This time, the increase may pay.
SD69 enrolment counts taken as of Sept. 30 show an overall increase of 49 students over the 2015-16 school year, from 3,952 to 4,001. That figure exceeds the district's projected enrolment, submitted to the Ministry of Education last spring, by 22 students, SD69 secretary-treasurer Ron Amos said.
"This additional 22 (students) will likely take us out of funding protection, thereby finally providing additional funds to support the services already being delivered."
Funding protection is a device the Ministry of Education uses to ensure school districts with declining enrolment are guaranteed no less than 98.5 per cent of their previous year's operating grant. The guaranteed funding is a benefit to districts facing continued enrolment declines, Amos said. On the other hand, it is a "double-edged sword" that can limit funding to that 98.5 per cent level, even after enrolment numbers rise again, until the balance is paid down.
Amos said SD69 is projected to escape funding protection because of its enrolment gains, combined with an $8 increase in the ministry's per-pupil funding formula.
"When we submitted our projected budget (in April), it said we would start the year with a grant that required only $141,000 in funding protection," said Amos, who noted the district received $1.6 million in funding protection last year.
“We knew we were close; the message at that time was it would take only 22 new students beyond our projections to get out of funding protection.”
The district approved a 2016-17 budget in April based on a projected full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolment of 3,979 students.
Actual enrolment through the end of September is reported by each school district to the ministry, which will use those figures to determine actual operational grants for each district. Those grants will be finalized in December, said Amos.
If SD69 has indeed freed itself from funding protection, it could receive more money than it projected when the board submitted its preliminary budget.
“The message in building the budget was we’re not going to bank on (increased enrolment),” said Amos. “But now that those kids have come forward, as it were, there may be some good news as we go into our budget dialogue.”
This is the second straight year the school district has reported enrolment gains after years of steady decline. The turnaround began immediately after the SD 69 School Board voted to close four elementary schools in the district, but Amos said school district officials will not recommend re-opening any of the facilities when the report is presented to the board at its Oct. 25 meeting.
“Our message to the board is that all schools are under capacity,” Amos said. “Errington (Elementary) tends to be a little pinched, but in all other areas there’s still room for growth. It’s going to take many years of enrolment gains like this to turn things around to where we have to monitor whether we have to take short- or long-term steps to increase capacity.”
The projected enrolment from the September count continues a climb from the low mark of 3,877 students enrolled in the 2014-15 school year. But it remains below the 2013-14 figure of 4,033 students, the number that prompted the public consultation that eventually resulted in the closure of Qualicum Beach, Parksville, Winchelsea and French Creek elementary schools in the fall of 2014.