With enrolment numbers rising in Kootenay-Columbia schools, the next batch of students dropped by the Trail library for a playdate on Thursday. Toddlers, pre-schoolers and their caregivers filled the multi-purpose room at the Riverfront Centre for an hour of unstructured play and snacks. Sheri Regnier photo

More Kootenay-Columbia students for a third straight year

Enrolment across School District 20 is up 175 students since 2016

For third straight year enrolment numbers are climbing in the Kootenay-Columbia school district.

It’s not a huge upswing, but with 175 more students across the region since 2016, it’s a good sign for a district that suffered through years of budget cuts and school closures.

“After decades of declining enrolment … we are growing,” says Superintendent Bill Ford. “We are not Surrey or Kelowna, but if we are up 50 kids (annually), that’s good for us, it’s a positive. The bottom line is we are growing, and it’s a different picture now.”

At the end of September, the district’s student count stood at 3,948. In 2017, that number was 3,852 and the year previous, 3,773.

Districts are tasked with taking a snapshot, or projection of headcount, early in the year during budget talks. This estimated number is critical because it is submitted to the province to fund the upcoming school year, so it had best be close.

Basic funding for Kindergarten through Grade 9 starts at $7,423 per student. For the final three grades, funding per pupil becomes quite complex. That’s because it is based on the number of classes each student enrols in, and this can widely range, especially in Grade 12.

From there, various allocations are directed into school district budgets to account for things like students with special needs or french language learners, the latter adds another $1,420 per student. Aboriginal education allots an additional $1,230 per student.

For the all-important purpose of funding, it’s critical that the district’s forecasted head count comes close to the actual enrolment numbers come September.

“It’s an art not a science, trying to do those projections,” said Ford. “Every year is the same, what does it look like across the district. We take as good a run at that as we can, and every few years we over-estimate. This year we came within 13, which is pretty good, it’s not going to make us or break us.”

As far as elementary grades, Fruitvale had the highest number of new students at 20. The total head count is 390.

Rossland Secondary School, which houses K-9, has the largest student body at 408. However, the head count is down by 20 from what the district projected.

Glenmerry school has 372 students enrolled in K-7 this year, and Webster Elementary, 295. Both those numbers mirror the district’s projections.

With trustees now newly elected, re-elected or acclaimed to one of nine seats in School District 20 (SD20), budget talks are just around the corner.

And, for districts across British Columbia including SD20, there could be some first-time financial hurdles in 2019.

“One of the challenges for school districts right now, is the new NDP government, the new ministry, decided that the funding formula that had been in place for a number of years, needed to be looked at,” Ford explained. “And (they) decided it needed to be reviewed and it needed to be revised,” he added.

“So one of the unknowns for us, going into next year and into the spring budget process, is they’ve told us that it’s changing. But we don’t know what that will look like.”

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