The Chilliwack School District held their first meeting of the school year on Sept. 19, and discussed their most recent audit, summer learning, trustee remuneration and growing enrolment numbers. (Progress file photo)

Growing enrolment, trustee pay increase discussed at first Chilliwack school board meeting

Student growth continues to grow, in both north and south schools

Chilliwack’s school board started off the year by changing the format of its meetings to allow for more discussion.

In a late addition to the agenda at the their Sept. 19 meeting, the board unanimously voted to change the public presentation portions of its meetings into question periods (QP). The first QP in the evening is open to anyone with questions, at a limit of five minutes per person. The second QP is held at the end of the meeting and will pertain to items on the agenda.

The board members said they will strive to answer questions when possible, instead of the past process of listening, taking contact information, and following up later with staff. The change should be a welcome signal to parents, teachers and staff who often speak but don’t get much instant feedback.

With that off the list, they moved into the meatier parts of the meeting, including financials, reconfiguration, summer learning, and enrolment numbers. First, they received the audit findings from Tim Holloway from KPMG. He said it was a clean audit again this year and went over the findings briefly.

Trustee Walt Krahn noted that the audit committee would appreciate a community volunteer with accounting experience to join them and share their wisdom. The committee meets regularly throughout the school year.

Reconfiguration

Trustee Bob Patterson then went over the current state of the reconfiguration plan, which still aims to shuffle middle school down to a Grade 6-8 format, with elementary schools losing Grade 6 and secondary schools gaining Grade 9. However, the devil is in the details and an advisory committee and working committee have both started regular meetings already. Information will funnel out of those committees throughout the year.

A flow chart with an in-depth timeline is available with this story at www.theprogress.com (see below), and at the school district’s website in the Sept. 19 agenda. It notes that Grade 5 and 6 families will start receiving communication in mid-October, and parent nights for both transition ages (Grades 5/6 and Grades 8/9) will be held in January 2018.

Summer Learning

Jeff Dartnell presented a report on the district’s Summer Learning Program, held at Chilliwack secondary throughout July. They saw a total of 531 students in a variety of programs, with the bulk of them being elementary students participating in extra learning courses to keep their numeracy and literacy skills sharp.

There were 83 middle school students in the Summit completion program, in order to move onto the next grade. They saw about a 95 per cent success rate for students, with non-attendance being the barrier for those who did not complete their program.

The only program that didn’t run this summer was Band, because no teacher applied to teach it. Last year, not enough students applied to take it and it also did not run. The future of the program is now in doubt, Dartnell noted.

While CSS has proven to be a great location for Summer Learning, he added, it is becoming too small for the popular programming. If the program grows, they will have to find an alternative location. One of the biggest challenges this summer was when the site was converted to an official evacuation centre for the wildfires. This added a potential element of danger for children, as the site was being accessed by strangers. They also lost the use of the gymnasium for those last two weeks of July.

Enrolment Increasing

The least surprising news of the night was the continuing rise of student enrolment. Assistant-superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam presented the numbers from a Sept. 13 headcount of full-time students. That day, there was 12,695 students enrolled, but the number continues to rise. By Tuesday morning, it had already grown to 12,800.

His projection for end of September in the spring was 12,967 and he says “we’re right on the money with projections of numbers.”

The biggest jump in student numbers varies from year to year. This year, there is a jump in Grade 12 enrolment, of about 1,000 students so far (from about 904 to 1,027). The board is hoping to find out the reasoning behind the numbers, whether it’s a large number of students returning for completion, or the diverse opportunities in local high schools as they partner with the University of the Fraser Valley.

Another point of interest is that north-side schools, for the first time in many years, have had a larger increase in enrolment than those south of the highway. Trustees noted that it would seem the growing cost of housing is starting to affect local enrolment surges.

Remuneration

Last year, the board voted that trustee and chair remuneration would be adjusted to the Canadian Consumer Price Index every July 1. This year, that meant a one per cent increase for all.

Trustee remuneration changed from $18,636 to $18,822. Vice-chair remuneration changed from $19,568 to $19,763. Chair remuneration changed from $20,500 to $20,705.

Board chair this year is Paul McManus, and vice chair is Walt Krahn. Trustees are Heather Maahs, Barry Neufeld, Silvia Dyck, Dan Coulter and Bob Patterson.

The next meeting will be held Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Chilliwack School Board office.

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