Coast Mountains School District enrolment crept up this year compared to 2017, reversing what had been a years-long decline.
Figures as of the end of September indicate enrolment is now 4,225, a modest increase over the 4,197 students as of September 2017 and the 4,211 students who were enroled as of September 2016.
This September’s figures fall within projections set out by the school district.
Enrolment had been dropping for years throughout the district which takes in Kitimat, Terrace, the Hazeltons and Stewart, a sign of a declining economy and families having fewer children.
There were 4,211 students registered in 2016, 4,385 in 2015, 4,674 in 2014 and 4,882 in 2013.
At one time, even a decade ago, the enrolment total was twice what it has been in the past several years.
But while the number is up however slightly over last year, there are still more students graduating than entering the system, said CMSD human resources director Cam MacKay.
This year’s Grade 12 student total is 412 compared to the 315 kindergarten students who are registered.
MacKay did note that while the number of graduating students is higher compared to those entering, Grade 12 numbers are a bit skewed because grad rates are higher in the past three years than first anticipated.
The district has also experienced more students in Grade 11 and 12 coming here from both public and private schools in other northern school districts who have lost teachers moving to jobs down south with the result being a reduction in course offerings.
“Some families have either moved or are sending their older children — Grade 11-12 — to live with family in our district to complete their Grade 12 and have more options on a face to face basis with teachers,” he said.
Overall the district is predicting enrolment to hover between 3,950 and 4,100 students for the next several years.
In the upper grades, numbers are starting to stabilize this year with 369 students in Grade 8, 362 in Grade 9, 366 in Grade 10 and 379 in Grade 11.
The Grade 7 to Grade 9 Skeena Middle School in Terrace continues to have the highest enrolment of all schools — 567 students this year compared to 561 last year.
MacKay said it is still a bit too early to predict enrolment increase impacts arising from the LNG Canada facility now announced for Kitimat.
“LNG personnel indicated we would see an increase in time — four to six years — from the operations side of the project with possible spinoffs that may also be a modest increase,” he said.
“On the whole we are not expecting it to be unmanageable space-wise.”
Of a more immediate concern to the school district is teacher recruitment, a challenge that began two years ago when the provincial government increased education budgets in every school district to create more teaching positions.
That was the result of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling which reversed cuts brought in more than a decade ago which increased both class sizes and the number of special needs students in classrooms.
There aren’t enough teachers to fill the new positions and that’s pitted northern districts against southern ones.
“The issue across the province at this time and particularly in the north is the lack of teachers currently available,” said MacKay.
The district did manage to fill many vacant positions this fall and is now looking for a full-time French Immersion teacher for Skeena Middle School and is looking to bolster its on-call substitute teacher pool.
“The recent increase in housing and rent costs in Kitimat and Terrace is not helping with recruitment,” MacKay added.
End of September enrolment figures are crucial for the school district because they’re used by the provincial government to set district budgets based on a dollar amount per student.
In Kitimat Nechako Elementary has 218 students this year compared to 222 last year while Kildala Elementary has 225 students this year compared to 216 in 20017. Kitimat City High’s enrolment is now 60 and was 47 in 2017. Mount Elizabeth Middle/Secondary School has 439 students this year and had 426 last year.