It isn't often that a downturn in the school population is cause for celebration, but it happened Wednesday for School District 57.
The numbers were finalized for the district-wide count of students in area schools. They made SD57 superintendent Brian Pepper smile.
"We are down. It is still good news, from my perspective. It is still an enrolment decline but it is levelling out," he said.
The population this year is 12,920 students, down from 13,009 at this time last year. Yet, "that is a positive story for us," said Pepper because there were times in recent years that hundreds fewer kids per year were there for roll call each September. At last estimate, SD57 officials projected the downward slide to hit 11,943 by 2016. By comparison, the district's student population in 2000-01 was 18,147.
The size of that student population gap meant drastic changes to the way SD57 was configured. Many schools had to close due to resource constraints. Staff were redistributed in dizzying fashion. Provincial funding was lost while one of the largest geographic school districts still had to operate equitably between Prince George, Mackenzie, McBride, Valemount and all the smaller communities in between.
A slower decline means less stress on all these aspects of SD57 business. It is easier to base a budget on fluctuations that small.
"We were predicting somewhere in the range of 120 to 160 drop, so 89 is on the positive side," Pepper said.
"In general terms, it is close to projections but a better result than we specifically forecast."
There are eight secondary schools in SD57, ranging in size from 70 students to 1,200 students (700 to 1,200 within the city). The district also has 31 elementary schools ranging from 20 to 600 students. There is also the district's Centre For Learning Alternatives which has more fluid student numbers.
The numbers are still subject to Ministry of Education oversight, plus unpredictable comings and goings of families.