Almost 300 fewer students entered Nanaimo schools this fall than the previous year.
The official fall enrolment numbers are in and while the district was expecting to lose about 77 students, it actually lost 298 students – or 221 more empty desks than projected.
The total number of full-time-equivalent students this year is 13,242, compared with 13,540 last year.
Secretary-treasurer Phil Turin said he has no explanation for the drop.
“I’ve talked to colleagues in other districts and they’ve experienced similar drops,” he said. “Are people moving? Could be. We’ve got a consultant working with us on an updated enrolment projection. It’s a serious matter because that is how we get our funding.”
The number of students in “bricks and mortar” schools declined by 2.2 per cent, which was partially made up by an increase of 60 full-time equivalent students in learning alternative and distance education programs.
The district is currently 87 students below projections for next fall.
Turin said finances won’t be negatively impacted by the drop because the district is in funding protection – a special grant that ensures it won’t receive less money than the year before despite declining enrolment.
But the funding protection grant is slated to decline by 1.5 per cent each year and he anticipates money troubles starting next year. While Turin hasn’t updated his financial forecast using the new enrolment numbers, he expects the district to be short of a balanced budget by at least $2 million.
Turin said work will begin shortly on strategies to balance next year’s budget.
“I’ve already had some preliminary discussions with senior staff,” he said.
Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said one concern for him is the unexpected drop in senior students – much of the drop occurred due to fewer Grade 11 and 12 students showing up than predicted.
He worries that some of these students have dropped out or chosen other education options.
“We’re concerned about this,” said Brennan. “Last year was a difficult year for the district because of the job action by teachers. It stopped us from any sort of promotion and reaching out.”
Nanaimo school district enrolment has been on the decline since the early 2000s and officials don’t expect this to turn around for several years.
Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said the highest enrolment she could find was 17,473 students in 1997.
The way the district reports enrolment has changed somewhat, but this is still a good indication of how much enrolment has declined, she said.