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RVS trustees discuss 'scary' enrolment numbers at board meeting

The spike in "bums-in-seats" has led to some skyrocketing capacity numbers, particularly at urban schools in Airdrie, Chestermere and Cochrane.
Rocky View Schools will begin advance registration for the 2017-18 school year Jan. 16.
Rocky View Schools trustees were presented with final enrolment figures for the 2022-23 school year at their most recent board meeting. File photo/Airdrie City View

Trustees were left to contemplate a paradox during last Thursday’s Rocky View Schools (RVS) board meeting. 

While overall enrolment numbers went up in RVS by 990 new students (3.7 per cent, which was less than the 4.3 percent projected), local schools are actually at 91 per cent capacity on average – an increase of four per cent over 2021-22.

So how can local schools have so many “more bums in the seats” this year over last, trustees asked, even though the overall enrolment numbers have fewer students than expected?

It fell to RVS director of operations, Colette Winter, to provide the answer to the paradox.

The key stat, she told trustees, is the online learning and difference (distance) learning numbers. She explained that in 2021-22, RVS had 673 students enrolled in online school and distance learning programs. In 2022-23, that number had dropped to 369 students, meaning about 300 previously enrolled students who weren’t in RVS classrooms last year are now in attendance in person at their local schools.

This added to the 990 new students enrolling this year means there are actually nearly 1,300 more students roaming the halls of local schools than there were last year.

“When we look at the actual bums in seats in our schools, the increase is actually 1,294 students,” Winter said. “What that means is we have increased by 548 through intake (Kindergarten), and then we have also increased by 748 students across the grades.”

This spike has led to some skyrocketing capacity numbers, particularly at urban schools in Airdrie, Chestermere and Cochrane. 

According to the enrolment report presented by Winter to trustees, Airdrie’s schools are 92 per cent full overall, (with local high schools much higher than that), Chestermere’s schools are also 92 per cent full, and Cochrane/Westbrook/Bearspaw schools are 96 per cent full. 

Even Springbank and Crossfield’s schools have seen large increases this year – according to the report, they are 81 per cent and 89 per cent full respectively.

Ward 6 (Cochrane) Trustee Fiona Gilbert thanked Winter for her report because it verified what local parents have been telling her about the increased crowding they are experiencing at local schools.

“I appreciate the story (the numbers) tell,” Gilbert said. “I think as soon as you said that, a light bulb turned on because we are feeling it in the middle schools, at the high schools. We are not that far off projection, so what’s different? Why are families and kids feeling the extra squishy-ness and the larger class sizes? I think that (increase in students attending class in person) is just an interesting piece of the story.”

Ward 3 (Airdrie) Trustee Todd Brand said the report was making him “cranky” about the provincial government's slow response to the pressing need for new schools in the district.

“I think this is an opportune year for us to be doing as much advocacy as we are doing,” he said. “It seems clear to me that the province doesn’t base their decisions for when and where they build schools based on utilization or need. It is not about: where is a school needed? Let’s build a school in that location. 

“There is a different formula they use, and we are not privy to know what that formula is, but I would suggest that in an election year, we might see a brand new formula that will come out around March or April next year about two months before the provincial election.”

Ward 3 (Airdrie) Trustee Melyssa Bowen said she was particularly concerned about the startling picture the enrolment report presented about the concerning numbers at W.H. Croxford High School in Airdrie, which is currently listed at 109 per cent capacity, and Bert Church High, which was listed at 99 per cent capacity. 

“It’s more like Halloween,” Bowen said. “It is scary to see these numbers.”

Trustees received the 2022-23 enrolment report for information.