Growth Spurt? Enrollment up but board still wants ban on school closings lifted

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Blake Ellis

Local Journalism Initiative

At this point it is difficult to determine whether a rise in enrollment is the beginning of a trend or just a one year blip. 

New data from the Lambton-Kent District School Board shows there was an increase in enrollment in local schools for the first time in years.

Associate Director and Treasurer Brian McKay said there are 535 more students in classrooms since last year, with a total of 22,275 students overall. 

He is attributing this to the movements families made during the pandemic, allowing employees to work remotely, and therefore not being tied to a particular area. Some moved from the Greater Toronto Area to the region to take advantage of wide open spaces and lowering housing prices. 

It will be interesting to see whether this continues next year, McKay said as he is seeing many offices returning to the traditional workplace.

“This is very much a short-term read,” said McKay, as he has seen enrollment decline over a number of years in Lambton Kent. There have been 1,678 fewer students within the district’s schools since 2012-13, a 7.23 per cent decline. 

He said the school district bases its decisions on whether an enrollment increase will remain firm based on the building of new homes or subdivisions. He points to Chatham, Sarnia, and Camlachie, where there has been increased housing development. 

Errol Village Public School will receive a $3.8 million investment from the provincial government, which will allow for the building of a two classroom addition. McKay is hoping to have shovels in the ground in 2023, after the project completes its design and tendering process.

Despite population increases in some areas of Lambton Kent, many schools are continuing to operate with fewer students. The overall capacity sits at just over 74 percent with 7,761 empty pupil spaces. 

Rural schools are more likely to have open classrooms. 

Dawn-Euphemia Public School has just 121 students at 47 per cent capacity.

Enrollment jumped at Lambton-Kent Composite School to 421 students – filling the classrooms to 56 per cent this year.

Board officials say about 129 students are enrolled in a program for low-German Mennonite families involved in seasonal work who are in high school.

Out of the 62 schools within the district, there are six elementary schools with a population less than 150 student, while three secondary schools have less than 400 students.

June 2023 will be the five year anniversary of the moratorium placed on school districts across the province to not close any schools. Dresden’s group of schools has been under the microscope because of low enrollment for years however the board hasn’t merged schools because of the moratorium.

Lambton Kent, as well as many other school districts, has been calling for the lifting of the moratorium.

“We can turn down the heat in some areas of schools, but we can’t turn it right off,” said McKay, noting their continues to be a cost to keep all of the schools open at decreased capacity. 

Despite population increases in some areas of Lambton Kent, many schools are continuing to operate with fewer students. The overall capacity sits at just over 74 percent with 7,761 empty pupil spaces. 

Rural schools are more likely to have open classrooms. 

Mooretown Public is the smallest elementary school in Lambton-Kent with 106 students using 41 per cent of the building. That’s expected to decline to just 36 per cent capacity in four years.

Dawn-Euphemia Public School has just 121 students at 47 per cent capacity.

Dawn Euphemia is one of the schools which was considered to be closed when the Dresden area group of schools would merge at Lambton -Kent Composite School. That plan never got off the ground because of the moratorium which was put in place.

Meantime, enrollment jumped at Lambton-Kent Composite School to 421 students – filling the classrooms to 56 per cent this year.

Board officials say about 129 students are enrolled in a program for low-German Mennonite families involved in seasonal work who are in high school.

Aberarder School – which will soon close and become part of the JK to 12 School in Forest – actually saw its enrollment climb to 61 per cent capacity. By 2025, the board projects it will climb to 65 per cent.

While most elementary schools in the Town of Petrolia are at or near capacity, Lambton Centennial, just outside the town limits, is only using 64 per cent of its building housing 214 students. That lack of space came in handy recently when students from Brooke-Alvinston suddenly had to vacate the older portion of the school after engineers declared the building’s roof unsafe in a heavy snowfall.

LCCVI  how has a student population of 832 people and is using 70 per cent of the building’s space. Much of the third floor of the building is no longer in use.

Out of the 62 schools within the district, there are six elementary schools with a population less than 150 student, while three secondary schools have less than 400 students.

June 2023 will be the five year anniversary of the moratorium placed on school districts across the province to not close any schools. Dresden’s group of schools has been under the microscope because of low enrollment for years however the board hasn’t merged schools because of the moratorium.

Lambton Kent, as well as many other school districts, has been calling for the lifting of the moratorium.

“We can turn down the heat in some areas of schools, but we can’t turn it right off,” said McKay, noting their continues to be a cost to keep all of the schools open at decreased capacity.