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Student numbers falling quickly

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Journal Staff

A low birthrate and faster-than-expected declines in student enrolment mean more amalgamations and school closures are on the horizon.

The Lambton Kent District School Board this year had a total of 21,831 students, a decline of 12.9% over the past decade and a 27.9% loss over 20 years.

The latest projections indicate enrolment will fall “more rapidly than previously anticipated,” according to a new Capital Plan presented to trustees.

The board, already forced to close 14 elementary schools and three high schools since 1998, now expects to lose another 1,099 students in the coming decade unless birth rates increase or more people move to the area, according to the report.

When students head back to class in September their schools will be far from full. Elementary schools are expected to be at 76% of capacity and secondary schools at 66%.

And the report contained more bad news.

A large number of aging schools in need of repair combined with the falling enrolment means an already “sizable funding gap” is about to increase, unless more provincial funding becomes available.

“(That) will force the LKDSB to make difficult decisions in the future regarding the allocation of resources,” Chair Elizabeth Hudie said in a release.

“In spite of these challenges, we remain committed to supporting student achievement while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”

To ease the impact, the board is reaching out to see what school facilities could be rented out for community use by clubs and programs, including gyms, classrooms, cafeterias, libraries and outdoor sports fields.

Because of their low enrolment, Hanna Memorial, London Road, Queen Elizabeth II, Lakeroad and Alexander Mackenzie are Sarnia school identified as good candidates for community partnerships.

This spring, the board initiated a “Thoughtexchange” with the community over the future of elementary schools in Sarnia. The board wants to reduce the number of schools and consolidate the city’s French Immersion programs in a single school.

More than 600 participants provided thoughts and suggestion, which were then “starred” by others.

Education director Jim Costello said last week the exercise was not the beginning of a pupil accommodation review, the formal process for closing schools

Ontario’s Education Ministry suspended all new pupil accommodation reviews until new guidelines are put in place.

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