The Coast Mountains School District (CMSD) says it lost a number of students to the private school system at the beginning of the school year, something it says could be a fallout from the labour dispute between the province and its teachers union.
And that, combined with the continuing trend of families moving away from the district because of increased living costs, means student enrolment numbers are down dramatically this year, according to CMSD officials.
Full-time enrolment for kindergarten through Grade 12, excluding home-school students, is 4,484 as of Sept. 30, according to documents provided at last week’s regular school board meeting. That’s a loss of 233 students from the 4,714 enrolled at the end of September last year – or roughly five per cent of the district, which includes Terrace, Kitimat, Stewart, and Hazelton.
“We are down,” said CMSD secretary treasurer Alanna Cameron Nov. 21. “We’ve become a higher cost area. I think a lot of our lower income families have moved out … we have workers moving in and families moving out that can’t afford to live here anymore.”
That’s a trend officials began to notice at the beginning of the 2013/2014 school year when enrolment numbers were down beyond the amount expected in the district’s 10-year plan.
“When we did our 10-year plan several years ago, we anticipated that even if everything stayed stable, we still anticipated going down a little bit for the next couple of years,” said Cameron.
“We still have fairly large grad classes and fairly small groups of kindergartners coming in,” she said.
But the other part of this year’s picture is that “we did lose some students to the private schools,” she said. “That was our anticipation – there were a lot of families that, due to the strike in September and the ongoing job action, that a lot of families decided, no they were going to take the private school option.”
Unofficial estimates by the district peg the number of students who switched to the private schools – and that includes the aboriginal schools in the area – at around 70.
Cameron noted that enrolment in the Nisga’a school district which serves the Nass Valley, where she is also secretary treasurer due to a sharing agreement between the two northwest districts, is up from last year by over a dozen students.
“Probably the same idea,” she said. “It’s too expensive to live here so they’re moving back up to the villages.”
Calls to two of the private schools in Terrace, Centennial Christian School and Veritas Catholic School, confirmed enrolment numbers at those schools were up. But neither were comfortable chalking those numbers up to fallout from the labour dispute.
Both cited several families new to the area as being part of their student roster, and at Veritas, the decision to offer Grade 9 this year means they retained 14 students – students that typically would have entered the public school system at Caledonia Secondary School.
Fewer students in the public school system means there are fewer teaching positions available. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to absorb our declining staff levels with people retiring for the most part,” said Cameron.
But she noted that the district is actually struggling to recruit on-call teachers and is currently short staffed, which could be another impact of the increasing living costs and housing crunch.
“We’re having a heck of a time” she said. “We’ve got classrooms without TOCs (teachers on call) some days. We’re working on recruitment, for sure.”
Terrace public schools by the numbers:
Caledonia Secondary School has 596 students for 2014/2015, down from 661 students last year. Parkside Secondary has 116 students this year, compared to 120 spaces filled last year.
Skeena Middle School, now three years into being a middle school with Grade 7 through Grade 9 students, saw 563 students, slightly down from last year’s 585.
At Terrace’s elementary schools, 318 students enrolled at Uplands Elementary, similar to the 315 students enrolled last year.
At Terrace’s French immersion school, Ecole Mountainview, this year sees 158 students enrolled, down from last year’s 171 and closer to the 151 students enrolled in 2012. Last year, the school increased the amount of kindergarten spaces, meaning there were over 30 kindergarten students. This year, there are 19 new kindergartners.
Downtown, 230 students are at Suwilaawks Community School compared to 221 students as of September of last year. At Cassie Hall, there are 194 students enrolled, comparable to the 197 students enrolled in September of 2013.
In Thornhill, the primary school saw 214 students enrolled this year, compared with 244 in 2013. Thornhill Elementary has 146 this year, compared to 154 last year.