Edmonton Public Schools faces high enrolment numbers leading to little flexibility and potential restrictions

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According to the Edmonton Public School’s student accommodation plan, the number of schools with closed boundaries continues to rise each year

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Edmonton Public Schools said higher student enrolment may force them to make changes, including closing boundaries, reclaiming leased spaces and consolidating programs.

In preparation for Tuesday’s school board meeting, EPS released their 2023-2024 student accommodation plan to handle their high enrolment which is projected to increase from the current 82 per cent to 90 per cent. They said when schools hit the 85 per cent utilization rate, they feel “full” and retain little flexibility to organize students in class.

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“Fundamentally, choice for students and families will shrink due to these space and infrastructure limitations,” said the report.

As enrolment increases, the ability for schools to distribute and expand alternative programming and provide students in new neighbourhoods access to schools nearby will become challenging. Even going so far as to have students transported to further schools, putting an added strain on the already struggling bus system.

‘The number of closed boundary schools continues to grow each year’

Space is becoming limited making it difficult to offer students a choice, including maintaining open attendance in boundaries.

“The number of closed boundary schools continues to grow each year,” said the report.

There are 44 schools in EPS with closed boundaries for the 2023-2024 school year — compared to the 32 schools during 2022–2023.

The report said although there are three new construction projects underway, the lack of new construction funding puts pressure on the capacity of existing schools and creates a demand for student transportation with schools that are further away.

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Schools take at least three years to build and open to students. The report said if no new infrastructure is funded, including the three that are underway, capacity will reach 100 per cent by 2030. The report stated that while funding is in the hands of the province, the Board of Trustees has been “tireless in their advocacy for new school funding.”

In an email to Postmedia, a spokesperson from the office of Demetrios Nicolaides, Minister of Education said the province will be providing funding to hire more educational staff and to build schools.

“Budget 2023 increased the investment in education by almost $2 billion over the next three years. Alberta’s government is providing new funding to help hire up to 3,000 educational staff and to build schools. Minister Nicolaides’ mandate letter from the premier calls upon him to significantly expand school builds in our growing communities,” said the statement from the Minister’s office.

Elder Dr. Francis Whiskeyjack High School is set to open in September 2024 with a 2,400 student capacity, Edgemont kindergarten to Grade 9 school has a tentative opening date of September 2027 with a capacity of 950 and Glenridding Heights for Grades 7-12 has a tentative opening date of September 2028 with a 2,410 capacity. The Glenridding school is approved for design funding only.

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What happens as capacity steadily climbs? 

Edmonton Public Schools has a Student Accommodation Plan updated annually. Schools in the Division are assessed based on three levels.

The majority of schools are currently at a level one on the Growth Control Model. At this level, schools have the ability to accommodate new students but must accommodate students in the area first and then with remaining space, may accommodate other students. Those guaranteed space are resident students living within the attendance area and siblings of current students who are returning the following year. If enrolment climbs, the sibling rule might be axed.

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Schools move into level two when they near capacity. Many of these schools — but not all — have closed boundaries, limiting access to schools to residence attendance students. An additional 12 schools have moved to level two for the 2023-2024 school year.

“Adding modular classrooms, reclaiming leased space, facility modifications and closing attendance area boundaries are measures the Division can take to ensure schools are able to accommodate resident attendance area students,” said the report.

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When schools reach capacity they enter level three which is restricted access and where the lottery process begins. Schools are able to determine which attendance area resident students can access their designated schools if there is not enough availability. The lottery process will only impact residents students new to the school. Non-resident students will not be able to attend level three schools.

A range of programs are offered by the Division including before and after school programs operated by service providers outside of the Division who lease space to provide services. But as enrolment climbs and begins to “outpace capacity in schools,” leased space will become limited to accommodate the growth. A reduction in programming and choices will likely occur if necessary, said the report.

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