District optimistic despite lower enrolment

Enrolment within Okanagan Skaha School District is down by 33 students so far this year, although officials see it as cause for optimism.

Enrolment within the Okanagan Skaha School District is down by 33 students so far this year, although officials see it as cause for optimism.

“Our projected enrolment (for 2013-14) estimated a decline of 100 students, so we have 77 more students than we anticipated,” superintendent Wendy Hyer told trustees at last week’s board meeting.

The total number of students enrolled in the district stood at 5,989 as of Sept. 30, down from 6,073 as of May 30.

“So, although our enrolment continues to decline, it’s one of the smallest declines we’ve seen in probably 10 years,” said Hyer.

She cautioned, however, that the smaller-than-expected drop will not mean more money.

Schools are funded based on full-time equivalent students rather than headcount, she explained, so it’s possible those extra bodies will bring only partial dollars.

Plus, the district is still in funding protection from the Ministry of Education that guards against unexpected changes in funding due to fluctuating enrolment.

“Even though we have 77 more… kids, which required us to hire additional teachers, we won’t actually see any increase in funding,” Hyer said.

School board chairwoman Ginny Manning said enrolment is projected to hold steady next year, then increase slightly for 2015-16.

“It is heartening to see that the enrolment decline this year is considerably smaller than was anticipated and in fact is the smallest decline in 10 years,” she said.

Assistant superintendent Dave Burgoyne said the district doesn’t track where the 77 unexpected students came from, although some arrived in the South Okanagan with their families from neighbouring provinces.

“That’s just an observation,” he cautioned, “not hard numbers.”

Five of 18 schools in the district saw their headcount increase between the end of the last school year and the first month of the current session.

Penticton Secondary School registered the largest overall boost, with 27 extra kids that took it up to 1,231. The smallest student body in the district remains at Naramata Elementary, which had just 65 pupils registered as of Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, the number of high school students who attended summer school in July declined significantly.

Just 13 students, all in Grades 9 and 10, attended two weeks of remedial math classes only, down from 42 a year earlier.

Jennifer Wingham, the principal for program for middle and high school students, attributed the decline to a steep decrease in the number of referrals from schools.

She told trustees that fewer students are being referred to summer classes because schools are finding new ways to help them pass courses.