More public school consolidation looms in Lambton Kent’s future

LKDSB in Sarnia. Blackburn News photo by Meghan Bond.

Lambton Kent District School Board enrolment is up slightly this year, but it’s not enough to stop the threat of future school consolidations.

There were 21,895 students enrolled for the 2019/2020 school year, up about 140 from last year, but still an 11.2 per cent decline since 2009.

Director of Education John Howitt said the overall use of the board’s facilities was 72.3 per cent as of September 20.

“We are funded on enrolment, we are not funded on square footage or the number of schools that we have,” said Howitt. “We are funded to provide programming to students and if that money is going to maintain empty square footage, as opposed to programming for students, that might not be the best way to be using those dollars.”

Howitt said enrolment is projected to decrease by over 600 students by 2029.

He said with six elementary school populations under 150 students and four secondary school populations under 400 students, consolidation has to be considered.

“People often consider school consolidations to be about money. They are more about programming and very small schools dilute our staff, especially our itinerary staff which impacts our ability to provide programming,” he said.

Howitt said it’s especially noticeable in secondary schools where fewer students, means fewer teachers, which means fewer optional subjects are available because they’re only able to offer the mandatory courses.

In June 2018, the education ministry reintroduced a moratorium on school consolidations and school boards were advised the province would be reviewing the school closure process.

However, it’s unknown when the revised process will be released.

The board closed 253 classrooms in September to save nearly $760,000 and outlined a plan in June to further promote international programs to fill unused spaces with overseas students.