(Nanaimo News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo school district forecasts enrolment rebounding from COVID-19

Student numbers to rise for next three school years, projects district staff

COVID-19 has affected numbers of students physically attending school in 2020-21, but Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district foresees enrolment increasing the next three school years.

Pandemic protocols are still in place for Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools, with four SD68 schools on the health authority’s school exposures list. Students are learning at either bricks-and-mortar schools or through the district’s distance learning program, with the latter seeing increased registrants, the district previously said.

At the district Feb. 10 business committee meeting, Mark Walsh, secretary-treasurer, told trustees that district budgeted for regular school enrolment of 13,898 full-time students, which doesn’t include distributed learning or alternate program students. That fell short with 13,743 actual students. In terms of total full-time students, the district projected 14,467 students with the actual number 14,308.

For 2021-22, the district forecasts 14,360 students, with 14,845 for 2022-23 and 15,015 for 2023-24.

Preliminary enrolment will be the basis for planning the next budget, Walsh said.

Student numbers are based on information provided to consultant Baragar Systems, along with input from principals and historical trends, said Walsh, who added that the school district is conservative with its estimates.

At the meeting, Jessica Stanley, trustee and board vice-chairperson, said she was skeptical about amount of students returning to bricks-and-mortar schools considering delays in vaccine distribution. She wondered how flexible the district can be given it is planning in advance.

“If April rolls around, or even as this budget process rolls around and it becomes increasingly apparent that we’re not going to meet those numbers, what we can do is we can re-adjust, for our own internal purposes, our enrolment projections,” said Walsh. “What that would result in is less staffing going to schools … If we all of a sudden got to June or July and something happens that kids are starting to leave again, then we need to look through what our collective agreement obligations are.”

Walsh said the school district would likely approach the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, hopefully moving teachers from “bricks-and-mortar” to the distance education program without laying teachers off.

“The conservative enrolment, along with making sure that our eyes are on the kids that are actually going to be in the seats as we go through the budget process, I think is going to solve a lot of that. Not all of that though,” said Walsh. “If we lose 1,000 kids, there needs to be layoffs at some point. Given what … medical professionals are telling us, we don’t want to be overly pessimistic and impact a whole bunch of school cultures. We don’t want to remove teachers if we don’t absolutely have to.”

READ ALSO: NDSS sees another COVID-19 case

RELATED: COVID-19 affects SD68 enrolment, funding

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