Central Alberta rural school enrolment varying

Three rural school divisions have been busy crunching their enrolment numbers.

Three rural school divisions in Central Alberta have been busy crunching the figures now that the Sept. 30 enrolment numbers are in.

Wolf Creek Public Schools has a bigger decline in enrolment than anticipated, possibly because more families have moved away during a slumping economy.

However, the decrease of about $470,000 from student grant funding will be covered by some unanticipated operational reserves that came through at the end of the last school year, superintendent Jason Lovell said Monday.

Last spring during the budget process, the school division had projected they would be down about 40 students come Sept. 30. In fact the numbers show the division at 7,487 students, down 92 from projections.

Lovell said they were surprised at the bigger drop, but the good news is they haven’t had to make end-year budget adjustments.

He said they have also noticed a surprising trend in some of their rural schools showing unexpected enrolment increases.

“We had some nice growth in communities where we hadn’t seen growth for quite a few years.”

Bentley’s projected school enrolment was 345 students but enrolment is now 367. In Clive the projected enrolment was 197, but it came in at 215 students.

At the same time, the overall student numbers in Lacombe were down by about 100 students. It could be that some of families have moved into some of the smaller rural communities where perhaps the cost of living is a bit lower, Lovell said.

Enrolment numbers in Blackfalds, which has seen strong population growth (eight per cent in 2016), were steady this year, up overall only about 14 students.

Wild Rose School Division, while falling below the 5,000-student threshold for the first time, saw more students registered on Sept. 30 than had been projected. The net result is more dollars for this year’s budget.

Mohammed Azir, secretary treasurer for the school division, said the total number of 2016-17 students projected last spring was 4,801 but there are actually 4,915 students registered. Students numbered were 5,036 a year ago.

Azir said they are happy the numbers aren’t as low as they projected and they can reinvest $250,000 in additional grants. Reductions were made last spring to balance the new school year’s budget.

The majority of the funding will either be used to rehiring teachers and or educational assistants, he said, adding that there is still concern about declining enrolments and there are no longer sufficient reserves to cover deficits.

Kurt Sacher, Chinook’s Edge superintendent, said the school division is “holding steady” at just over 11,000 students in the large school division, the same as last year.

They didn’t know how economic uncertainty would play out in terms of student enrolment, Sacher said.

“We’re really pleased that our projections are almost bang on, and that’s put us in a really strong position to start the year.”

“Budget wise it’s coming in exactly as we had anticipated.”

Gasoline Alley Career High enrolment is close to 200 students, which is the highest number they’ve seen in about 20 years of offering the program. About 45 people are adult students, many coming back to upgrade.

When there’s a bit of an economic downturn you tend to see that, Sacher said.