With increasing numbers of families in the Errington Elementary catchment area choosing to send their students to Qualicum Beach Elementary, School District 69 officials are monitoring enrolment patterns while mulling the possibility of a catchment boundary change in the future, district officials confirmed in two public meetings in April.
With students from Coombs, Hilliers and Whiskey Creek taking advantage of courtesy bus transportation to attend Qualicum Beach Elementary, Trustee Julie Austin, who represents the Errington region, asked for clarification on the district’s plans on catchment during a special budget meeting April 19.
“What I’m hearing is we’re not necessarily having that catchment change discussion, but we’re hoping that perhaps by offering transportation incentives, families will continue to go to Qualicum or make the change to Qualicum,” Austin said. “Am I right?”
Superintendent Rollie Koop said that Errington Elementary was allotted a broad geographic catchment area extending through the rural communities following discussions on reconfiguration of the boundaries after several schools were closed in 2014.
But since then, a number of families from those communities have chosen to enrol students cross-boundary in Qualicum Beach.
“What we saw was that many families decided to make the choice, voting with their transportion and cross-boundary requests, to go to Qualicum (Beach),” said Koop.
“We facilitated that these last couple years by providing additional buses for that area for courtesy rides. We’re at the point now where we’re starting to consider a catchment area adjustment that would recognize the patterns that parents have established.”
If the catchment area is changed, Koop added, it would convert Qualicum Beach-bound students eligible bus riders rather than courtesy riders. It would also cause families who wish to send students to Errington into a cross-boundary enrolment choice.
“I just wanted to make it clear that wasn’t something that was being anticipated for September (2016), so families had a lot of heads-up,” Austin said.
Koop said no catchment boundary changes will be made for the coming school year, in 2016-17, but the admission led to a follow-up question by District Parent Advisory Council representative Jalyn Sorg of Qualicum Beach during the board’s regular meeting on April 26.
“Is it safe to assume there won’t be any boundary changes for the year coming up, and that it would be perhaps for the following, 2017-18 (school year) that it might happen?” Sorg asked.
“I would suggest it’s being monitored,” board chair Eve Flynn answered. “Our belief is that if catchments are changed, or busing is changed or there are any other adjustments there, that would be next year.”
The shift of students from the Errington catchment area to Qualicum Beach is not causing any crowding issues, and may even work in favour of school capacity, Koop added.
“We wanted to be mindful of what cross-boundary patterns are like, what the capacity at Errington is … knowing that at Qualicum Beach we still have — and project to have — room for the foreseeable future,” he said, reiterating it is a decision district officials “don’t want to make this year.”
Trustee Elaine Young, speaking to Sorg and other members of the public in the audience, noted the board will not make the decision without public input.
“There’s quite a process to this, I think,” said Young. “I’m sure there will be public consultation, as there always is on these kinds of decisions, if we decide to go that route.
“To me, it’s not a short-term solution. It’s more of a dialogue. You have to look a few years to the future.”