For the first time in three decades, the number of students attending Surrey and White Rock public schools has dropped.
Figures for kindergarten to Grade 12 enrolment this fall show there are 72 fewer kids than this time last year. Surrey remains the largest school district in B.C. with 70,172 students, but had 70,244 last September.
In a city where growth has been rampant – the city estimates approximately 12,000 new citizens move to Surrey annually – the enrolment decrease is surprising for school officials, who were expecting an increase of about 195 students.
“It’s really too early to even speculate where they (the students) are,” said Laurae McNally, chair of the Surrey Board of Education.
She said significant growth continues in schools in the east of the city, such as Cloverdale and the Clayton neighbourhood, as well as in the South Surrey, in areas like Morgan Crossing and Rosemary Heights.
“The numbers just didn’t show up, apparently, in the west and the north and we don’t know why,” McNally said, adding district staff is investigating possible causes.
She noted that anomalies do happen, however, like three years ago when Surrey forecast an increase of 200 new students and 1,400 appeared.
The school board had based its 2012-2013 budget on the projected increase of 195 students, so the 267 fewer students than expected means about $5.1 million less in operational funding from the Ministry of Education.
Most of that would have covered hiring nearly 150 additional teachers, educational assistants and support staff to serve the anticipated additional students. But since they didn’t show up, those positions were not filled and the money not spent.
Despite this year’s “blip,” McNally said all indications are that school enrolment will grow by about 400-500 students for at least the next couple of years.
And she said capital funding (dollars needed to build new school space) is still needed as Surrey still uses 265 portable classrooms.
“It won’t affect our lobbying for schools because we’re still trying to play catch up from having five years of no capital. Government will not fund based on speculation. They need to see the whites of their eyes…and we have lots of those here already.”