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Decline in student enrolment slowing in Cape Breton

Brookland Elementary in Sydney.
Brookland Elementary in Sydney. - Nikki Sullivan

'In the last nine years, we’ve lost approximately 1,013 students'

SYDNEY, N.S. —

While student numbers are continuing to decline at Cape Breton English-language schools, the speed of the decrease appears to be slowing.

Under the Strait Regional Centre for Education, enrolment for the 2019-20 school year stands at 5,952. Enrolment a year earlier was 6,100, a difference of 148, or a decrease of about 2.4 per cent.

However, the board had projected a larger decline of about 241 students, based on what it saw in Grade Primary registration last winter.

In the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education, the enrolment for 2019-20 stands at 12,204 — that is a decrease of 0.75 per cent from the previous school year. The percentage decrease is also lower than in the previous several years — it was 2.3 per cent in 2015-16; 2.01 per cent in 2016-17; 1.44 per cent in 2017-18; and 1.76 per cent in 2018-19.

Paul Landry, regional executive director of education for the Strait centre, said in an interview he doesn’t have an explanation for why the projected decline was higher than it actually experienced. Typically, the projection is done following Grade Primary registration, and staff look at the number that will be leaving the P-12 system by graduating, versus those entering Primary.

“It’s typically an accurate projection but, as we know, things change within our region, families move and families come into our region,” he said. “I would think that that would have some effect, really, on our enrolment.”

In a brief statement emailed to the Cape Breton Post, the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education wrote that enrolment in the region is continuing to decline, but at a lower rate than in the past and is appearing to stabilize.

Landry said over the past three years or so, the number of students lost from the system each year has levelled off a bit, although they’ve mostly been fairly consistent year-to-year over the past decade.

“In the last nine years, we’ve lost approximately 1,013 students,” Landry said.

The decline is generally region-wide, although there are sometimes certain schools that may see a larger drop in a given year.

“That could be just demographics within the community, or those types of things,” Landry said.

In the past couple of years, the province has shifted away from primarily enrolment-based funding for regions toward more program and service-based funding. That was an approach long advocated by the former elected school boards in regions that were facing decline.

“It provides different supports in different ways now,” Landry said. “The way that that funding is set up now, it’s not just based on enrolment, so that’s certainly had a positive effect on our region … we’ve been able to expand our programming and we’ve had lots of additional staff to support students with their needs.”

This year, the overall provincial education budget increased by $44 million dollars. For the Strait region, the budget was increased by about $4.065 million, or 4.4 per cent, in spite of declining enrolment. As a result, the centre has seen increases in full-time equivalent teaching and non-teaching positions.

It won’t be very long before staff at the centres for education start to get an idea of where the numbers could be next fall, with the process of Primary registration beginning in late January.

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