Fewer students on the books

Kerri Breen
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Advocacy group wants information on teaching resources

As school enrolment continues to decline in Newfoundland and Labrador, a group seeking to evaluate teacher allocation says it's having difficulty getting the information it wants.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) enrolment has plummeted since the late '80s due to outmigration and a low birthrate. There's almost half the number of K-12 students in this province than there were in 1989.

As school enrolment continues to decline in Newfoundland and Labrador, a group seeking to evaluate teacher allocation says it's having difficulty getting the information it wants.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) enrolment has plummeted since the late '80s due to outmigration and a low birthrate. There's almost half the number of K-12 students in this province than there were in 1989.

The provincial government's community accounts statistics website published the numbers for the 2009-2010 school year on June 24.

The data reveal enrolment has shrunk by more than 11,000 students in the last six years.

The only gains were experienced by French schools and by private, aboriginal or specialty schools.

Some English-language public districts were hit harder than others.

The Labrador District School Board lost about 23 per cent in that period while the largest district, Eastern, has lost about 10 per cent. Both the Western and Central Nova school districts have lost about 15 per cent each.

The declines mean changes in instructional/operational funding, which is allocated on a per-student basis.

In April, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (NLFSC) put in a request to the school boards to for information on how teaching resources are being divided among schools.

"We want see at least the status quo maintained," John Smith, vice-president of the organization, said.

In addition to his role on the NLFSC, he chairs the school councils of a junior high and a high school in Conception Bay South.

He said effective teacher allocation is especially important in ensuring students who have social or academic problems get the support they need.

Government has officially capped class sizes at between 20 and 27 students, depending on the grade.

Smith said the group hasn't received an official response from any of the school districts yet.

"Getting the information right now seems to be the hardest," he said.

He said he isn't trying to cause undue controversy or to play politics - the federation would just like to make informed observations on the situation.

The Telegram couldn't confirm receipt of the letter with each school district Friday, but an Eastern School District representative did say there has been conversation, but no official reply or decision on the matter yet.

Eastern School District director of education and CEO Ford Rice noted the board has been executing a series of plans - including school closures, extensions and the construction of brand new buildings thanks to a major investment from the provincial government - to deal with declining enrolment and regional population shift over the years.

Much of the decline is occurring in rural areas of the district and the centre of St. John's, he explained. Surrounding areas are seeing gains.

Rice also said that the decline is now more gradual than it used to be and should taper off eventually.

Rice hasn't heard concerns from schools about their funding due to declining enrolment - there is flexibility and special consideration for smaller schools.

As well, it's only the instructional component based on enrolment - maintenance and repair allowances are provided based on the physical size of the school.

The district has hired a new program specialist to support the 17 smaller K-12 schools, some of which have multiple grades in each classroom in the name of efficiency.

Rice said the district aims to provide the same quality of programming to students throughout the region.

The NLFSC hopes to meet with Education Minister Darin King soon to discuss the teacher allocation issue, among other concerns.

King wasn't available for comment this week.

kbreen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, Labrador District School Board, Western and Central Nova school

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Conception Bay South, St. John's

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