Paul Liberatore

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50 jobs, 28 classrooms on chopping block as East Van enrolment drops

East Vancouver schools could close
 

In school catchment areas in Vancouver’s east side, empty student spaces run at around 20 per cent.

More than three-quarters of the 9,000 empty spaces in Vancouver classrooms are in schools on the city’s east side, a Vancouver School Board report shows.

The issue of excess space in schools is hot topic in Vancouver.

Enrolment has been dropping in Vancouver public schools for the past decade and next year may cost the district nearly 50 jobs, as well as force the closure of 28 classrooms, the board’s recent budget proposal shows.

A special adviser has been appointed by the education ministry to look at cost savings for the district, and now that a moratorium on closing schools has expired, too many empty seats in any given school could ignite an argument for closures.

The Vancouver Sun requested a breakdown of school-by-school enrolment and capacity numbers. The VSB declined to provide that level of detail.

Instead it supplied a report to trustees which breaks down enrolment into nine zones in the city, based on pairs of secondary schools and their feeder elementary schools.

For example, Windermere and Killarney Secondary schools are coupled with their feeder elementary schools. In that group of schools, the working capacity is 8,585 spaces, but only 6,575 students are enrolled, leaving 2,010 spaces. That number is projected to rise to 2,112 unused spaces next year, according to the report prepared by David Nelson, the VSB’s director of instruction

On the west side, there are far fewer available spaces. For example, at Kitsilano and Prince of Wales, 96 per cent of spaces are full, with just 187 spots available.

In total, there are 7,052 unused spaces of the 35,238 total spots in east side schools (20 per cent) and just 1,900 unused spaces of the 23,282 spaces in west side schools (eight per cent).

The school board is beginning to see a levelling off of declining enrolment at elementary schools and is expected to see the same at secondary schools within two years, Nelson said.

But for now, the school capacity in Vancouver is uneven, with schools in some areas experiencing empty seats and even empty classrooms, while others are full, and even have waiting lists.

Downtown and near Olympic Village, schools are overflowing, and some students can’t get into their neighbourhood school. Five schools in particular are squeezed for space: Edith Cavell, False Creek, Norma Rose Point, Fraser and Elsie Roy Elementary schools.

With the price of single-family homes skyrocketing and more families choosing to live in urban condominiums, it is difficult to predict where schools will be needed in the Vancouver, Nelson said.

He says the school district uses birthrate data and tax data, but as families make different choices, traditional patterns change.

“Rather than choosing the free-standing house with the white-picket fence in the suburbs, the condo starter home will be more of the permanent home and I think that’s largely what we’ve seen downtown,” Nelson said. “It’s a hard thing to guess.”

School enrolment patterns are also tied to the seismic upgrading program, because older, bigger schools could be replaced with newer, smaller schools that can more easily accommodate an addition if the population changes, Nelson said.




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