Bucking the Trend
by John Vegt, SCSBC Director of Finance ◊
Christian schools in BC are experiencing changing enrollment dynamics. In the 1950’s, schools were populated with students from large immigrant families. Immigrant children started their own families in the 1970’s and later; usually these were smaller families but still with enough children to keep our schools growing. Then, Christians from Asia and many from various denominations in Canada embraced Christian schools and added many more students. However, some third generation immigrants did not automatically choose to send their children to Christian schools; some found public schools, French immersion, Catholic schools, homeschooling or non-SCSBC Christian schools more attractive. The recession of 2008/09 also took a number of families away from Christian schools. Enrollment growth has become stagnant or declined for a number of SCSBC schools.
What will happen in the 2010/11 and later school years? Population demographics in the public schools show a declining enrollment of 4.4% from 2004/5 to 2008/9. What will be the basis for future growth of our Christian Schools?
Collectively, from 2007 to 2009 SCSBC schools experienced a declining operating surplus from $4.2 million in 2007, to a surplus of $1.1 million in 2008, to a deficit of $1 million in 2009. This results in a reduction in surplus over these three years of over $5 million. The 2010 school deficit will likely be larger yet. Student shortfall from budget, recession, school building programs, philosophical differences in what Christian education is all about have all contributed to this.
How will we plan future staffing and facilities? Will competition and tuition fees continue to cause more families to leave? What will we do to attract families to our schools? What are our boards, development staff, teachers and principals doing to retain and attract students? What will be the effect of preschool and full-time kindergarten?
The biggest challenge for an immediate 2010/2011 budget plan is to have a hard look at enrollment assumptions for the coming year. Schools will need to plan staffing based on realistic but conservative enrollment projections. A review of what forms the school’s enrollment base needs to be analyzed demographically. Any schools with declining or increasing enrollment projections need to deal with staff levels for next year in the next few months.
We encourage all schools to use the SCSBC budget template to assist them in developing a budget based on solid documented assumptions. We encourage all schools to prayerfully review recruitment strategies and discern the trends in their schools. Long-term recruitment planning should be high on the list of school board priorities. At the March 2 – 3, 2010, Finance, Business Management and Development Conference, we will examine the various tuition models SCSBC schools use and how we can learn from these.
Above all, schools are encouraged to maintain a strong Christian perspective in education and excellence in learning programs, ensure staff is trained from that perspective, be prudent in managing changing dynamics of enrollment and expand recruitment efforts among Christians who have not been exposed to Christian schools.