For the first time in 30 years, student enrolment in Surrey's kindergarten to Grade 12 classes has dropped compared with the year prior.
At the end of September 2011, student enrolment in Surrey was 70,244 compared with 70,172 in 2012 - a difference of 72 students.
For years, the Surrey school district has been one of the fastest-growing in the province, having seen an increase in enrolment every year since 1981.
According to Surrey Board of Education chair Laurae McNally, the drop in enrolment came as a surprise as the board had projected an increase for 2012.
"Anomalies do happen, including one three years ago when we forecast an increase of about 200 students and ended up with more than 1,400 additional students," she said in a statement. "Generally, the greatest decreases in enrolment - both for elementary and secondary schools - have been in neighbourhoods that normally have the highest rate of transiency among families; areas with high numbers of rental housing, for instance."
Education minister Don McRae said he had heard Surrey's numbers were down but did not believe it was anything to be concerned about quite yet.
"One year does not a trend make, and I know Surrey is growing substantially. It has in the past and will probably grow in the future as well," he said. "I don't think it makes any changes to the projections going forward."
Having based its preliminary 2012-2013 budget on an anticipated enrolment increase of 195 students, it is now expected the district will receive $5.1 million less than anticipated in Ministry of Education funding.
When asked about how the lower enrolment may affect the ministry's funding, McRae said, "There's always a funding issue but I haven't seen the numbers and if it's down a little bit, my understanding or my guess would be that the trustees would be able to deal with the change in enrolment quite easily."
McNally alluded to as much, saying the board had provided enough for the hiring of 150 additional teachers and support staff based on the projections for this year. However, with enrolment down, McNally said there were likely savings to be found in not hiring as many additional staff.
"While there is still likely to be a need for some additional staff, there will be savings in reduced hiring to help offset the decreased funding," she said.
Despite the drop in numbers, the board is still predicting growth for at least the next few years.
"We still anticipate growth of about 400 to 500 students each year for at least two more years," McNally added.
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