There are 50 more students enrolled at Alberni District Secondary School than projected, School District 70 Superintendent Cam Pinkerton said.
Enrolment is up significantly at the high school but that’s not unusual for this time of year, Pinkerton said.
“We usually get a lot of students who try and go to ADSS but later feel it isn’t for them, then they switch over to VAST,” Pinkerton said. “We had 120 students who made that transfer last year.”
There are also 40 fewer students than projected at the middle school level in the Alberni Valley. And there are six fewer students than projected at elementary schools.
The numbers are still being crunched but there are approximately two-and-a-half per cent fewer students enrolled than was projected by the district last spring, Pinkerton said.
The greatest decrease is at the middle school level, he said. AW Neill and EJ Dunn Middle Schools are equally affected by the decrease.
Families leaving the Valley for employment purposes is the most common reason for the decrease, he said. “Parents will usually make a decision to leave before high school.”
The West Coast has also seen a loss as 50 fewer students than projected have enrolled in Ucluelet Elementary-Secondary, he said.
Fewer students technically equates to fewer dollars flowing into the school district from the Ministry of Education. But a special funding protection measure kicks in and the district will receive more than one per cent of the previous year’s budget, which in SD70 adds up to $600,000.
There are other trends Pinkerton has noticed in the district. There are a lot of spouses who work out of town but their families still live in town. Several families moved here specifically so their kids could go to the new high school. And a lot of couples who are originally from here are moving back after their kids are grown, he said.
A continuing trend sees the number of Aboriginal students in the district remain steady at approximately 1,600.
The school district bases its numbers on the actual number of children going to school in the district, he said. But the Ministry of Education bases its enrolment projections on the census, number of births, and number of women between the ages of 20-34, Pinkerton said.
Port Alberni isn’t alone in reporting decreased student enrolment. Out of 60 school districts in B.C. 57 are reporting enrolment declines, while three have reported enrolment increases, he said.
The school district already had time to prepare for enrolment declines, Alberni District Teachers’ Union President Ken Zydyk said.
The district anticipated the loss in the spring and held back two full-time teaching positions in response, Zydyk said. “They can now re-assign those positions where they are needed,” he said. “They can even break it up into part-time pieces and assign them that way if they need to.”
High school teachers in Port Alberni and Ucluelet are telling Zydyk that science classes in particular are reporting more than 30 students per class. “We hope to see those addressed in the near future,” he said.
The drop in the number of students in middle school is shocking at first glance, Zydyk said. “When you lose students it’s usually spread over the three grades instead of just one,” he said.
The district may have funding protection this year but it’s only a temporary measure, Zydyk said. “My understanding is that it runs out in a couple of years.”