Workers put the finishing touches on entrances to new portables at Mt. Slesse middle school in Chilliwack on Oct. 23. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Student enrolment up in Chilliwack yet again

More kids equals more money but consistent in-migration means local schools are pressed for space

There is good news and bad news when it comes to Chilliwack’s public schools: enrolment is up yet again.

A higher birth rate coupled with increasing in-migration from other communities means School District 33’s budget will be larger than ever this year.

But that also means schools are only more and more pressed to find seats.

“Having a growing a district is a wonderful thing,” outgoing school board trustee Bob Patterson said at the last meeting on Oct. 2.

“The challenges of course as we have recognized for quite a few years now is that we have limited space. It doesn’t matter how you consider it from a district lens, our schools are over-crowded.”

• READ MORE: B.C. student enrolment up, but slow compared to 2017

The new school board was voted in on Oct. 20 and they are moving in to manage one of the few districts in B.C. that continues to grow year after year, according to district assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam.

“We have been one of the few districts that have grown steadily over the last several years as a result on of in-migration and other factors,” he said.

Enrolment numbers were presented to the outgoing school board at its last meeting before the election, and showed a 2.7 per cent increase in student numbers over 2017, which itself was a two per cent increase over 2016.

“We’ve managed to find space for everyone,” Arul-Pragasam joked during his enrolment presentation. “Closets here and there.”

The real issue of how many kids are learning in portables across the district came up several times as a concern during the recent election of the new school board. There are currently more than 90 portables in use across Chilliwack and most schools are over operating capacity.

Reconfiguration has helped ease some of the burden on some elementary schools, moving grade six kids to middle schools.

The head count in the district by Sept. 30 of 12,930 students, according to Arul-Pragasam is a 2.7 per cent increase over the 12,590 from Sept. 30, 2017, which was up two per cent from the 12,340 from the same time 2016.

The outgoing trustees were positive about the increased enrolment numbers as each comes with more than $7,200 in funding for the board, meaning a budget of more than $96 million for the next year.

Outgoing board chair Paul McManus commented on the situation with a optimistic look.

“There are challenges this year but certainly it’s a positive thing,” he said. “Hopefully our parents and staff will continue to be patient, growth is a challenge for us but it’s not something that we can’t overcome.”

Both McManus and Patterson, along with Walt Krahn, did not seek re-election on Oct. 20.

The newly elected school board is made up of incumbents Dan Coulter, Heather Maahs and Barry Neufeld, along with new board members Darrell Furgason, Jared Mumford, Willow Reichelt and David Swankey.

They will be sworn it at their inaugural meeting on Nov. 13.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack school board results reveal clear split


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