Student enrolment in School District 63 (Saanich) has seen a slight increase this year at the elementary level. (File)

Enrolment is up at Saanich Peninsula schools

SD63 sees big growth in elementary school population, modest declines in higher grades

School District 63 (Saanich) has grown by 95 students this year, which is “a little bit more than expected,” according to SD63 secretary-treasurer Jason Reid. The District now has 7,004 students, up from 6,909 last year.

The increase comes entirely from elementary school students. Their population increased by 120, but it was offset by small declines in middle and high school students.

Reid said that there was declining enrolment in the District for 15 years, which was in line with provincial trends. However, after plateauing for a few years, SD63 enrolment is growing again so “those decreases we’re seeing in high schools are sort of that last bubble of declining enrolment working its way through the system.”

The availability of affordable housing is one possible factor in the enrolment increases. As an example, enrolment in the Sooke school district has been steadily increasing, which Reid said was “mostly a function of development,” citing more affordable housing in the West Shore compared to surrounding areas.

The District does 10-year projections to determine what facilities and capacities are needed. They use macro-level projections by Baragar Systems, and adjusts them with local knowledge. For example, if there is a new housing development in a nearby community, they would adjust those numbers as necessary. Based on those projections, the district expected growth in the range of 25-50 students this year.

The Ministry provides each district $7,301 for each student, which makes up the vast majority of their funding. The SD63 operating fund is around $65 million, and $50 million of that comes from the per student allotment, according to Reid.

To comply with a 2016 Supreme Court ruling which concluded that teachers could negotiate class size and composition, the district has hired about 40 additional teachers bringing the new total to 440. Funding for more teachers does not come from the $65 million, but rather a special purpose “classroom enhancement fund” as a result of that court decision.

To increase space, the district converted 11 indoor spaces, some of which were computer labs, into classrooms. Reid said that this work had been completed before school started.

The District also purchased four portables, which cost approximately $130,000 each to buy and install. They arrived last week, and the goal is to have them ready for use sometime in November. North Saanich Middle School is receiving two, and Claremont Secondary and Prospect Lake Elementary are each getting one. Reid said they are “much nicer than portables of the past.”

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