Edmonton Public Schools facing mounting enrolment pressures

Click to play video: 'Edmonton public schools facing capacity issues'
Edmonton public schools facing capacity issues
WATCH ABOVE: More students than ever are enrolling in Edmonton public schools, but the amount of space in those schools is not sufficient to keep up with demand. Sarah Komadina has more – Mar 23, 2022

The Edmonton Public School Board says it will not be able to keep up with ever-growing enrolment demand without increased capital funding.

During a board meeting Tuesday afternoon, school administration outlined its new proposed Ten-Year Facilities Plan for 2023-2032. The plan outlines a number of issues faced by the school division, including its mounting enrolment growth and deferred maintenance.

“We are the fastest-growing division and the need for new schools is acute,” board chair Trisha Estabrooks said.

Since 2010, enrolment in Edmonton Public Schools has grown by more than 25,000 students. That’s a utilization rate increase of about 12 per cent, according to the EPSB’s ten-year plan. The division expects enrolment to steadily increase over the next decade.

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“Without new capital funding, enrolment growth will outpace our capacity by 24,000 students in 10 years. Those are stats that tell the story of a growing division,” Estabrooks said.

“All of a sudden, Edmonton Public is in the situation where we’re having to reduce choice for families in terms of where we can provide alternative programming.”

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Edmonton Catholic to get 2 new schools, public school division left out

The last major modernization project for the division was announced for funding in 2018 and the last new construction was announced in 2019, according to the EPSB.

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“We’re in a situation two years in a row where we’ve received no new capital announcements,” Estabrooks said.

“We are a fast-growing division, we have been passed over two years from this provincial government on new school builds and this plan shows clearly, once again to the provincial government, that Edmonton Public needs funding to build new schools.

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Since the 2010-2011 school year, the division has opened 31 schools (24,800 student spaces) and either installed or relocated 433 modular classrooms in lieu of additional new funded schools.

Estabrooks said in the past, the division had relied on capital surplus dollars to buy portable units, something she said is not sustainable in the long-term.

“If we’re always in the situation where we’re having to purchase portables to accommodate growing demand in our division, in some ways it’s a bit of a Band-Aid solution,” she said.

While enrolment growth is occurring in all areas of the city, the division said it is greater in suburban neighbourhoods in southwest, southeast and west Edmonton.

Samanta Roan has three kids and for her, education is top of mind. Her son is heading into high school and she hopes he can go to the nearby Lillian Osborne High School in southwest Edmonton.

“It’s 17 minutes away, it’s one bus,” she said. ‘I was like, ‘This is awesome.'”

Starting this fall, Lillian Osborne will be on a lottery system so there’s no guarantee her son will be able to attend. The next high school option is much farther away.

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“Strathcona is 57 minutes away from here by bus — that’s two buses and quite a bit of walking.”

There are three schools within Edmonton Public already on a lottery system, with two more being added, including Lillian Osborne.

Currently, there is no new provincial funding for the division to build new schools or to modernize older ones.

“We need some help from the provincial government,” Estabrooks stressed.

“For the fastest growing school division to not have any of our capital requests met in the last two years, it’s frustrating. But I’m hopeful that will change.”

In a statement, the press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said each year, school boards are required to submit three-year capital plans to the province that outline their capital needs. These are prioritized based on evaluation criteria, including health and safety, enrolment pressures, building conditions, functionality and programming, and legal requirements, Katherine Stavropoulos said.

“EPSB’s number one priority, Delton School, had 69 per cent enrolment and no health and safety concerns. If EPSB was truly concerned about building for growth, they needed to prioritize new schools in growing areas at the top of their amalgamated list,” Stavropoulos said.

“Recently, Minister LaGrange and department officials met with the chair of the board as well as the superintendent, where they discussed the process and ways that the board may choose to adjust their requests in future submissions.”

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Stavropoulos said Alberta school authorities are well funded.

“Despite lower enrolments, despite growing school board operating reserves (currently at $464 million), we are still maintaining funding to the system and adding funding for additional supports. This means that operational funding allocations for all school authorities will be the same or higher in the upcoming school year, compared to the current school year.”

— with files from Sarah Komadina, Global News.

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