Local school reviews: The problem of declining enrollment, pt. 1

Our local school is undergoing a Local Accommodation Review, one of those bureaucratic phrases which raises the specter of school closings. It’s the sort of thing, not long ago, during the Harris years, which would have brought parents out in swarms.  It passed nearly unnoticed last week at a school board sub-committee meeting.

Of course, there are fewer of us to notice now. When my high-school-aged daughter started school there, enrollment was twice what it is now.

Neighbourhood demographics have shifted, and homes which housed one or more families in apartments now house singles, childless couples or smaller families. Babies are still being born into the neighbourhood, however our homes are now considered “starter” homes, with a large homes in the neighbourhood have three bedrooms. By the time the babies are ready for school, new siblings have arrived, and families move away.

Most schools around the province are seeing declining enrollments. Birthrates are down everywhere. The only schools left with portables are “receiver” communities, where Canadian newcomers are settling or where new (and bigger) housing is being built.

Declining enrollment continues to hurt the idea of neighbourhood schools. The Liberals have yet to substantially change the funding formula, which is still driven by the number of students enrolled in a school board.

Year over year,  school boards have had to continue to cut back as their revenues dropped, even while some of their costs remained the same or grown: fixed costs such as a full-time secretary or janitor or rising costs such as energy and maintenance of older buildings. And it has meant that school are undergoing Local Accommodation Reviews.

What this calls for is creativity and the willingness to look at new ways of managing these resources which sit at the centre of every city neighbourhood. But perhaps what it also means is that government, school boards and communities will demonstrate a willingness to take some risks to preserve the idea of local schools.

More on these solutions to come….

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