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Influx not only from Alberta, report shows

School district continues lobby for capital funding
September 26, 2016 9:24 A.M.

School trustees receive a report Monday on a sudden reversal of fortunes in Kamloops-North Thompson, from too few students to a surge beyond what was expected.

They know a little more than they knew two weeks ago after 230 more students than projected arrived at district schools, mostly on the city’s South shore. 

After years of watching steady enrolment decline, it wasn’t a situation for which the district was fully prepared.

A Ministry of Education official will be touring the district for an initial assessment of needs.

School board chairwoman Denise Harper said Monday that schools are able to accommodate the new students, though not necessarily at schools in their own neighbourhoods.

"It's not an immediate issue but it's one that's looming on the horizon," Harper said. "We've been ignored for far too long in this district, the chickens are coming home to roost and they're not finding any room to roost."

One of the questions: Where are the new students coming from?

Most guesses point to Alberta, the combined effect of energy sector downturn and wildfire that has uprooted families, but a report from Bill Hamblett, assistant superintendent, indicates the region is drawing families from across Western Canada.

Among a total of 350 new students tallied earlier this month, 88 were from out of province and 218 were from out of the school district. Another 44 came from independent schools. They’ve come, not only from Alberta, but from B.C.’s North, the Lower  Mainland, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Last week, trustees met with MLA Todd Stone, partly to discuss the enrolment surge. The original intent of that meeting was to make another pitch for capital funding from Victoria to build a new South Kamloops secondary. They’re also pursuing a new school in Pineview, and additions to Westmount elementary and Valleyview secondary.

The Pineview Valley school is the most pressing among needs, Harper said.

"That's a must-do, so no foot dragging there," she said.

Stone has promised to bring the case for capital funding to cabinet and Education Minister Mike Bernier has said the matter is on his priorities list.

It was far from their first attempt trustees have argued for a replacement for the 65-year-old South Kamloops secondary, but the $50-million cost has been a hard sell over the last few years in the face of capital priorities driven by seismic upgrades and population increases in the Lower Mainland.

Additional students have given trustees more ammunition this time around, and the influx is good news overall for the district, Harper said.

"It's great news, and we can certainly work to accommodate the new students," she said.

Over the long term, district enrolment was forecast to decline gradually before levelling off at 13,000 students. Now, it appears as though the trend will level off at 14,500 students.

Harper said additional students are balancing enrolment at the elementary level, supporting an expectation that the district will eventually stabilize with about 1,000 in each grade.

Over the past 13 years, declining enrolment has led to the closure of 13 district schools.

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