Enrolment at the area’s Catholic schools are up slightly for the 2011/12 school year, which is good news for the division even if registration numbers at St. Mary School in Westlock are down slightly.
Caren Mueller, the Evergreen Catholic school division trustee for the area, said the slow but steady increase over the past five or six years is good news for all schools.
“If we look at Evergreen as a division, our numbers are up and I think that bodes well for all our wards,” she said.
Enrollment numbers are essential indicators in a school division’s budget, as provincial funding for school divisions comes in part on a per-student basis — this is why historically, declining enrolment numbers have been of such great concern for rural schools.
In the division, enrolment is up to 3,475 full-time equivalent students, 46 more than last year. St. Mary has seen a decrease of 7.5 to 260 students this year.
Mueller said the challenges the division faces with respect to student populations is the same as those seen right across the region, and spoke highly of the co-ordinated efforts being made through organizations like GROWTH Alberta, the regional economic development agency.
“I think with school boards in rural Alberta enrolment numbers are always a concern. Evergreen Catholic is a very prominent member of the GROWTH region, as is Pembina Hills, and I think for both of us we’re trying our best to encourage our kids to live, work and play in our communities,” she said.
“That helps not only our communities, but hopefully our enrolment numbers stay up as well.”
Overall, with little in the way of major fluctuations, Mueller said the concern is keeping up with current efforts as opposed to trying to do anything radically different to attract students.
“Because the numbers have been somewhat static, I think we just continue to carry on doing what we’re doing,” she said. “Overall, I think Evergreen has been doing quite well.”
Mueller added she was pleased to hear the announcement that the provincial government was to re-inject $107 million into the province’s school system, with about $662,000 going to Evergreen.
This is not money that can be spent however the division chooses; education minister Thomas Lukaszuk set certain conditions on the money. For example, a portion has to go to alleviate class sizes for Grades 4 to 6, Mueller said.
“There are certain areas that we have to be able to spend that in, and we will follow those guidelines, definitely,” she said.
Overall, she added, the money is a good indication of this government’s commitment to providing the needed educational funding.
“I’m very pleased the government has initiated a renewed effort giving money back to school boards so we can keep doing what we’re doing. It makes it very difficult when you really have to get down to bare bones,” she said.
“This at least gives us a little bit of leeway so that we can make the best decision for our students.”