Even with more students expected back in classrooms this September, School District 71 is anticipating a slight decline in overall enrolment.
The reason is more students, including many from out of district, could be returning to traditional bricks-and-mortar classrooms after switching to the district’s distance program, NIDES, this past year, due to COVID concerns.
At the Feb. 23 board of education meeting, secretary-treasurer Brenda Hooker outlined the projections the district is using for the fall, after district staff and school administrators spent the early part of this year trying to determine where students might end up. She said this year’s enrolment figure of 9,487 is expected to drop to 9,251 students. These are the numbers the district has to send to the Ministry of Education by Feb. 12.
“It’s our best guess at this point as to how … the ongoing effects of COVID are going to affect the families’ decision,” she said.
NIDES saw an influx of students both from within the district and from outside this school year. Hooker expects the programming for distance learning will could keep some of the outside students registered in the Comox Valley system.
“We gained a significant amount of enrolment this year with our increased enrolment in distance ed,” she said, adding the expected decline makes sense if families of students from outside the district are planning for students to return to their regular school district.
The district is basing its projections on the assumption many will return to their original schools. “We do feel like we’re going to lose some of those students, and we have to plan for that,” assistant superintendent Geoff Manning said.
The projections now will be used to put together a preliminary budget for the coming year, with the district updating numbers in the summer. The final budget is not adopted until after the district has its official enrolment count at the end of each September.
Hooker clarified that at present the district is expecting more students back inside schoolroom as of September, with an estimated increase from the current 7,255 full-time equivalent (FTE) students up to 7,734 FTEs.
“We’re actually predicting a little increase in bricks-and-mortar,” she said. “We feel like there’s going to be a shift back.”
However, the number of students signed up through NIDES is projected to drop from the 2,048 this year down to about 1,300, which accounts for the net decline in enrolment of close to 240 students that the district anticipates.
“It is quite a science and an art to put all those pieces together,” board chair Sheila McDonnell said.