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Burnaby school district gets unexpected influx of students from outside Canada

The Burnaby school district has registered about 1,100 more students than expected this year; most need English language instruction.
The Burnaby school board passed in 2022/23 amended budget Tuesday.

The Burnaby school district has had to dig deeper into its reserves this year than planned because of an unexpected influx of students from outside of the country.

Last April, when it passed its preliminary budget for 2022/23, the district projected its student population would be up by 250 this year, according to a presentation at a school board meeting Tuesday.

Come September, however, an extra 1,350 students showed up, according to figures in the district's amended 2022/23 budget, which was approved Tuesday.

“The Burnaby school district’s modelling in the past has been incredibly accurate, as far as predicting enrolment in the coming year,” secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill told the NOW. “This year was very much an anomaly.”

Nearly 1,000 of the new students are English language learners, whose families have come to Canada as temporary foreign workers, students and refugees, according to Horswill.

Decisions at the federal level are behind some of the influx, including changes to the country’s temporary foreign worker program and immigration measures to support Ukrainian refugees.

“Part of why the growth was unanticipated is they were not part of the modelling in February when we did the projection,” Horswill said. “As you’d expect, this year, as we develop our projections for September 2023, we are working with government to try to understand what potential impact we could have from those sources.”

The higher than anticipated jump in enrolment has come with a corresponding increase in provincial funding, including about $20 million more than projected for teachers and education assistants, according to Horswill, but the school district will also have to absorb some extra costs.

The district has been able to place the 1,100 extra students in existing classroom this year, Horswill said, but it will need about $4.2 million in new portables next year to accommodate the growth – and that money is coming out of this year’s operating budget.

To balance its 2022/23 budget, the district is having to dig deeper into its reserves, according to Tuesday’s presentation.

School board chair Bill Brassington said the board plans to sit down with local MPs to draw their attention to the challenges the district is facing because of decisions being made at the federal level.

“There’s over a hundred languages spoken by Burnaby families,” he told the NOW. “Our city has such diversity, and we want to support everyone who comes here. That’s core to what we believe, but that requires the support of senior levels of government, in this case, the federal government.”