Falling enrollment in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District will likely take a decade to recover, school board trustees heard Wednesday night.
Current enrollment in the district sits at 14,522 students, down from 15,099 students in 2009/10.
That decline is expected to continue until 2015 before it starts increasing again.
However, enrollment likely won’t hit 2010 levels again until 2020.
“There seems to be an intuitive feeling as you drive around town and you see a lot of development, that we’re growing in this district,” said Peter Bullock, the district’s assistant secretary treasurer. “But that’s not the case.”
Bullock said demographic predictions by the district and the Ministry of Education tell the same story, with the majority of the enrollment decline coming at the secondary school level.
Bullock noted, however, that predicting future enrollment is not an exact science.
“We still don’t know what the effect of the Golden Ears Bridge will be,” he said after the meeting.
“If property values remain low, and families from Surrey and Langley see [Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows] as a desirable place to live … maybe there will be a demographic shift.
“It would be great if the data turned sooner than later, we would be thrilled.”
Since funding is tied to student enrollment, the declining number of students locally will also result in increased budget pressures, with the district likely facing budget deficits of decreasing severity until 2015, at which point enrollment, and provincial funding, are likely to once again increase.
“Our international education program is quite successful and is critically important to offsetting the effects of enrollment decline,” Bullock said.
The program is expected to generate close to $1.7 million in net revenue for the district for the 2010/11.
Despite falling enrollment, many schools in the district are at or near capacity.
The district’s 2011 facilities utilization report, also presented to trustees on Wednesday, shows the district’s elementary school’s at 96 per cent capacity, while secondary schools are at 93 per cent.
Overcrowding is especially a problem in and around the east Maple Ridge neighbourhood of Albion, where all four schools are over capacity, according to the district’s data.
Samuel Robertson Technical Secondary School leads the way at 153 per cent of capacity.
The school has 920 students despite being built for 600, and has 13 portables currently in use.
The three elementary schools serving the area are all over capacity, as well, with Albion at 125 per cent, Alexander Robinson at 116 per cent, and Kanaka Creek at 104 per cent.
In a bid to get provincial funding for an additional elementary school in the area, the district opted to use its existing portable classrooms instead of the new modular units offered by the provincial government for the implementation of full-day kindergarten.
The move saved the province close to $2.5 million, and secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson said he is hopeful the provincial funding will be forthcoming as a result.