Implications of Declining Enrolment For Saskatchewan Education
By Craig Melvin (1979)
SSTA Research Centre Report S12: 77 pages, $14.
The Problems and Challenges of Declining Enrolment  Opportunities for Initiative   This report was designed to bring together in one document information about the decline in Saskatchewan school enrolment and an overview of the problems encountered as a result of that decline. 
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The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.



Chapter 1 is a summary of the report. The chapter begins with an overview of Saskatchewan school enrollment and discusses the implications of present and future enrollment trends. The chapter concludes by addressing a range of opportunities for local and provincial initiative reported in Chapter IV.

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Enrollment Trends

Saskatchewan school enrollment has peaked twice and is now in its second decline since 1905. The first peak occurred in 1930-31 and the second in 1969-70 with 249,512 pupils. Since 1969-70 enrollment declined to 213,713 in 1978-79.

A pronounced wave in enrollment is evident in the data. Figure I which displays enrollment by grade in 1978-79 clearly portrays this phenomenon. A pronounced bulge in enrollment existed at the grade nine level and this year has moved to grade ten. As this wave moves through the secondary school over the next three years it will be followed by a rapid decline.

The schools most seriously affected by this decline will be the rural kindergarten to grade twelve schools. Comprehensive and urban high schools will certainly feel the effects but due to their size and greater flexibility will perhaps respond more easily. Information about the current size of schools reveals that many urban elementary schools have already experienced seriously reduced enrollments.

Projected enrollments indicate that elementary enrollment will continue to decline until 1983 and then slowly rise through to 1990. High school enrollment will drop quickly over the next three or four years then more slowly to the end of the 1980's.

These general trends in enrollment describe a provincial picture. But enrollment trends and decline, in particular, are unevenly distributed. Several divisions near urban centers are experiencing a rise in enrollment while several rural divisions, particularly in South-Western Saskatchewan are experiencing rapid declines. Urban divisions are faced with building programs even while their enrollment declines as enrollment shifts to new suburban developments. This redistribution of population within cities, near cities and generally from rural to urban Saskatchewan make the already serious problems of enrollment decline more complex. A review of the complexity of the situation reveals that there is no single adjustment which can be made to meet the challenge. Rather, the complexity implies that a series of initiatives will more likely be necessary and will perhaps be more effective.

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The Committee grouped the implications of decline under the headings: administration, staffing, programming, facilities and transportation. An attempt was made to consider this range of major categories of school administration rather than focus on what is usual in similar reports, a narrow range of problem areas. The question of teacher supply and demand has been studied (Gathercole, 1979), specific planning aids are being concurrently developed (Scharf, Jewton et al, 1979-80), other provinces have reviewed and reported the mare or less direct consequences of declining enrollment on foundation grant plans (Schwartz, 1977; Commission on Declining Enrollments in Ontario, 1978), and the problems associated with school closure have been thoroughly studied and reported elsewhere (Rideout, 1975) and in Saskatchewan (Leader Boards of Trustees Committee, 1979). The Committee chose to take a more general approach.

Several factors have combined with declining enrollment to further aggravate the problems of education finance. The nest important is inflation. The costs of education service delivery have risen rapidly due, in large measure, to inflationary pressures on fixed education costs.

Programs introduced during the 1960's and 70's have added to education costs. New or renovated facilities and low teacher-pupil ratios required for many new programs have added to the quality and cost of education service delivery. Over this same period of time qualifications of teachers generally have improved and as a group, teachers have more experience. Particularly the increase in qualifications, the median for qualifications having moved from Class III to Class IV, has added to school division expenditures for instructional staff.

The major aggravation of declining enrollment appears to be a general perception that as enrollments decline, so should expenditures. Education expenditures, though, are notoriously inelastic and cannot, for a variety of reasons, be reduced in proportion to enrollment.

Summarized below are the Committee's observations on administration, staffing, programming, facilities and transportation.


l. School "jurisdiction" consolidation has, in the majority of cases, gone about as far as it can go. On the other hand there may be room for further "school" consolidation but it must proceed with careful consideration of benefits and possible hardships.

2. The range, of alternative mechanisms available to school administrators with a view to reducing educational service delivery costs is restricted by board policy, past practice and vocal pressure groups. Local flexibility in selection or service delivery alternatives is required, though, if responses to declining enrollments are to be made.

3. The often invisible role and support function of administrative staff of school divisions makes them extremely vulnerable to public charges of "over staffing" at the senior staff levels.

4. The time and effort required to formulate and implement cost reducing programs in Saskatchewan schools and school divisions may require additions to the senior administrative staff compliment of Saskatchewan school divisions.

5. There is, at present, considerable opportunity for sharing of administrative, consultative and support services between and among Saskatchewan school divisions.


1. Compared to other provinces, and certainly compared to other organized working groups, boards of education have a relatively free hand in the redeployment, and if necessary, reduction in size, of the teaching force.

2. Without substantial changes in staffing arrangements, the anticipated further decline in enrollment, particularly in Division IV, will cause the pupil-teacher ratio to drop below the present level.

3. It is expected that if there is a general reduction in opportunities for teachers to move between school systems they will move across and down the salary grid causing professional staff costs to rise.

4. It is not expected that the decline in enrollment will have a significant effect on non-professional support staff costs.


l. Elementary programs have perhaps contracted sufficiently to absorb the slight decline in elementary enrollment envisaged through the mid 1980's. No further significant changes in elementary programming will likely be required.

2. Because high school enrollment in Saskatchewan has only begun to feel the effects of the projected decline, it is expected that the high school program will have to be revised to absorb the further effects of enrollment decline.

It is anticipated that in order to effect significant reductions in program costs at the secondary level that significant changes in programs and their delivery will be required.


1. Board of education capital expenditures will not decline in proportion to the decline in pupil enrollment.

2. Repair and maintenance expenditures will likely increase as a direct consequence of inflationary pressures and the aging of school facilities.

3. Long term capital and maintenance savings will likely accrue as a direct consequence of the recent trend toward designing flexibility into school facilities. Namely, the use of relocatable classrooms and in one urban school system the use of an entirely relocatable school.


l. It is unlikely that significant savings in pupil transportation expenditures can be made over the short term. Rather, over the next few years as fuel prices rise we might expect transportation expenditures to increase as a percentage far more rapidly than other board expenditures.

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While the decline in enrollment creates new problems and aggravates long standing problems, the decline has also created and in some cases necessitated opportunities for initiative. The single most important initiative centers on the very real need for thorough long-term planning. The opportunity here does not only rest with boards of education but needs to be pursued by the Department of Education in response to questions boards need answered; questions about the level of provincial financial commitment to elementary and secondary education and about the kinds of educational programming needs and requirements which will surface during the 1980's and beyond. These two important inputs to local planning, provincial funding and programming requirements need thorough analysis and description if board planning is to be meaningful.

The universities have an important planning support role to play. Creation of educational planning models, descriptions of alternative futures and development of inservice and training seminars and workshops are parts of this role.

Other administrative initiatives such as the use of shared service arrangements to reduce actual expenditures or to keep new expenditures to a minimum, making alterations in school division boundaries as situations dictate and purchasing education services where it is economical to do so can be taken.

Numerous staffing initiatives are available to boards of education and most have already been tried. The objective behind alternatives in staffing arrangements is, generally, to maintain an interface of reasonable or economic size between professional staff and pupils. Itinerant, part-time and shared contract arrangements are examples. Other staffing related possibilities include multi-campus schools, where both staff and pupils move between facilities, expanded use of the semester system and A/B programming. Possibly, too, the provincial government could expand and improve correspondence education and assist to expand educational television.

Educational programming is an area for considerable initiative. New programs and courses of study especially suited for small schools and mixed grade classrooms could be developed. Programmed instruction and other forms of individualized learning could receive renewed interest. More general core courses and fewer highly specialized courses seem to be the order of the day. Possibly more innovative would be a quarter rather than semester system allowing pupils to take ten weeks of highly concentrated instruction in certain subject areas perhaps even in residential settings. The list of opportunities for programming initiative is limited only by our imagination. It will be important though, that children be protected from "fadism" and the outlandish experiment.

Facilities and transportation initiatives will be needed but in the main will focus on more energy efficient operations. The "rule of thumb" here would be to view all fixed costs as controllable expenditures. Facilities rental and partial closure, using smaller buses and by carefully assessing the financial implications of current and new board policy on facilities and transportation will help to keep these areas of expenditure under control. In summary, it is reasonably safe to say that the main impact of enrollment decline in the elementary school has already been felt. With some local variation, only a slight further decline will occur in the elementary grades. At the same time, secondary schools are only now beginning to feel the full impact of enrollment decline; a decline which will continue throughout the 1980's.

The challenge for boards of education and their professional staff during the 1980's will be to maintain a high standard of secondary education. Dr. Sylvia Ostry, Chairman of the Economic council of Canada, recently said that there is no single solution to Canada's economic plight. The same can be said about the problem of declining enrollment. The problem is many faceted and can only be successfully challenged by taking initiatives on a broad front and at all levels of educational administration.

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The purpose of this report was twofold: to predict changes in enrollment over a ten year period and to assess the educational and financial implications of those enrollment changes. This purpose for the study and development of a report did not include making recommendations which would somehow alleviate problems aggravated by declining enrollments. However, through its study of the educational and financial implications of declining enrollments the Committee became aware of numerous opportunities for initiative.

As observed previously in this report, there is no single recommendation or sweeping change in education or its finance that can be made to make problems associated with declining enrollments go away. Rather, there are numerous adjustments that can be made locally and provincially to assist in the alleviation of these problems. During the 1950's and 60's schools and school divisions were growing so rapidly that little time was available to assess the quality of school programs and the numerous arrangements made to support those programs. The emphasis was on quantity; more buses, more classrooms, more teachers and more programs. The leveling off and decline in enrollment can be viewed as an opportunity to divert energies away from quantity and toward a reassessment of quality. In brief, the decline in enrollment has presented boards of education and the provincial government with an opportunity to make education more efficient and to provide better programming at no extra cost in real dollars.

An ever present risk in a time of financial restraint is the possibility that we cut programming as quickly as it grew. There are too many good programs and excellent opportunities for pupil growth and development to make program cuts without thorough consideration of the consequences. Every program in every school and in every classroom must be systematically reviewed and assessed.

At the same time, the decline in enrollment, at least during its initial stages, provided boards of education with opportunities to take advantage of space created by the decline and implement much needed programs or expand on present programs by creating specialized facilities. In a very real way the decline in enrollment has created Problems or aggravated existing problems but has also created opportunities. The opportunities exist locally and provincially as do the problems.

But to take advantage of these opportunities long term planning is critically important. While enrollments were expanding errors in judgment such as purchasing slightly more textbooks or science equipment than was needed one year were quickly erased by the fact that the following year the additional textbooks or equipment were needed. Such is not the case as enrollments decline. Rather, an error in judgment one year can be easily magnified the following year. For this reason, long term planning is essential.

Evidence of lack of planning will surface quickly in classrooms and schools and at the school division level. Too many teachers and too few pupils or a range of high school options too rich for a local budget are quick evidence of a lack of financial and program planning. Evident too, would be lack of planning at the provincial level. Generally, in Canada, provincial governments appear to be channeling financial resources away from elementary and secondary education and into other social and human resource programs. While it is of some help to planning at the school division level to know that perhaps education will be granted a smaller share of the provincial pie it would be of far more assistance to know precisely what that share will be and how it will be distributed over the longer term, say three to five years.

Suffice to say that the decline in enrollment has created opportunities for initiative but without long term planning and commitment the initiatives cannot be seized upon. And just as the opportunities exist locally and provincially so must the planning and commitment be made both locally and provincially.

Following is a listing of opportunities which might be taken provincially or locally as they apply. In presenting these opportunities the purpose was not to create a comprehensive list of things that must or should be done. Rather, it is an attempt to display the range of initiatives that might be taken. Like chapter III, the remainder of Chapter IV is organized under the headings administration, staffing, programming, facilities and transportation.

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There appear to be two rather large categories of opportunity for administrative initiative created by declining enrollment. The first category represents those initiatives which might be taken to develop decision alternatives. Generally speaking, these initiatives fall under the heading of "planning". The second category of administrative initiatives are those which present real opportunities for savings.

A broad range of administrative planning initiatives are possible. A pervasive and important initiative which might be taken provincially would be for the Government of Saskatchewan to describe its financial commitment, in some detail, to education over a three to five year term. It is obvious that changes in government can alter such commitments in the long term but even a two or three year commitment would represent a vast improvement over the guess work which senior administration must now employ. Similarly, long term commitments to program modification, addition and phase out would assist program planning at the local level. Appointment of new teachers could be made in anticipation of emerging teaching requirements, purchase of equipment could be made with a view to long term use and renovation of facilities would recognize long term programming requirements. Because education is a large and complex enterprise its response to change is often slow and ponderous. But like any large industry long term planning can set the stage for the implementation of change and greatly facilitate the maintenance of those changes once made.

And while provincial level long tern planning is important so is local long term planning. The problem with long term planning at the local level is that there are so few people to do it. And compounding the problem of insufficient manpower is the need to provide opportunities for learning planning skills. Here, the Universities of Regina and Saskatoon together with organizations like SASDE, LEADS and ASBOS could develop and deliver seminars and workshops for senior administrative staff and trustees with a view to imparting planning skills, This is not to say that senior administrative staff and trustees don't presently have long term planning skills but it is important, particularly in a time of decline, that these skills be honed so that realistic alternatives are presented for consideration. The planning and development of and participation in such seminars and workshops would possibly require additional expenditures on research, development and travel. And while its difficult to reconcile spending more at a time when fewer children benefit from the results, the expenditure might be viewed as an investment. The results of such an investment should be a more efficient and better school program without additional programming expenditures.

The regional offices of the Department of Education could be integrally involved in long term planning by adding to their present monitoring and consulting function a research and development function. This function night be served by present personnel or through short term assignments. The role of a research and development function at the regional level would be to assist in the development and description of alternatives.

And like any research and development function it should act on invitation and ensure objectivity of its findings and recommendations. By acting on invitation and ensuring objectivity the credibility of a regional research and development function could be secured.

The second category of administrative initiative includes opportunities for real cost savings. Two examples based on previous experience surface quickly. The first would see an increased measure of shared administrative and consultative service. The report previously lists numerous current examples of shared service, however a concerted effort to expand on these possibilities could possibly result in a reduction in administrative and consultative expenditures. At minimum, increased sharing could provide better service for the same financial input. The possibilities for sharing exist between and among boards, between a board or a number of boards and the Department of Education or other departments of government. In some instances too, it may be possible for a board of education to share the services of an individual with industry.

A second opportunity to reduce or maintain expenditures at the present level, would be to make some small realignments in school division boundaries. However, where boundary changes are not possible or are viewed as undesirable boards may continue or extend their purchase of educational services outside of the division. With the advent of comprehensive schools and specialized educational settings like developmental centres service purchase is not a new concept to Saskatchewan education.

With these few examples it can be seen that there are opportunities for administrative initiative. However, for boards of education to respond to these opportunities it is important that they maintain and where possible extend their local flexibility. It is important that boards of education not be negotiated, legislated or regulated into a financial or educational corner that allows no opportunity for change and improvement. It is important that the educational opportunities for children be given first consideration and that the various support structures in place to support those educational opportunities be given second consideration.

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The literature and experience provide numerous examples of staffing arrangements designed to accommodate difficulties encountered as enrollments decline. It is important though, that as individuals are added to school division staffs that they are added in view of future requirements. And without long term programming plans it is difficult indeed to determine future staffing needs. In brief, staffing decisions must follow from programming commitments.

It seems that the basic problem faced by boards of education as enrollments decline is to maintain an interface of reasonable size between professional staff and pupils. In order to maintain a reasonable interface specialist teachers are more and more often hired on an itinerant basis. By moving from school to school the number of children benefited by the specialist skills of the itinerant teacher is increased.

The same effect can be had by sharing contracts far specialists between two or more boards or between a board and a department of government or community college oz university. For example, where a board of education needs a business education specialist, say half-time, and a community college requires a teacher of adult business education, a shared contract could be struck. Perhaps the simplest approach, though, to maintaining the professional-pupil interface at a reasonable size is to simply hire staff on a part-time basis.

Increasingly, the literature includes examples of staffing plans which integrate educational or sabbatical leave. A commonly known plan is the 4/5 plan where an individual teaches for four years but has the pay for those four years spread over five years allowing a year of educational or sabbatical leave. Although this initiative is well known it has not spread much beyond three or four school systems in Canada. Another somewhat similar arrangement provides one assignment for two teachers, say a husband and wife team.

While these or similar staffing initiatives have been and will continue to be taken by boards of education there are staffing related initiatives which can be taken by the universities and Department of Education. In particular, as the enrollment decline passes through the high school and as enrollments level off and begin to increase at the elementary level retraining may be required to redeploy high school teachers in the elementary school. Summer courses and on-the-job training will be required for high school teachers unfamiliar with the exigencies of the elementary classroom. Both universities and the Department of Education could join together to provide opportunities and incentives for high school teachers to obtain the necessary retraining to successfully adapt to the elementary classroom.

A further initiative which might be taken concerns the incentives far teachers to apply for positions in rural school divisions. It is generally recognized that professional positions in rural school divisions are becoming increasingly complex assignments and because the rate of pay is similar to the rate of pay which would be received in a less complex assignment, say in a larger school, it may be necessary to provide incentives to ensure that teachers apply for rural appointments. Housing for the married or single teacher with dependents can provide a very real incentive. Here, it may be possible to involve the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation with boards of education in rural housing developments. For the teacher with dependents, boards of education may arrange daycare services at little or no cost to the board simply to attract teachers. A very inexpensive initiative would be to simply see that new teachers are welcomed into a community and made a part of local activities.

There are numerous other staffing initiatives which can be taken. Para-professionals may be increasingly used in low enrollment situations or to assist teachers with particularly complex assignments, for example teaching thirty children in a grade one to six mixed-grade classroom. One thing becomes very clear with all of these examples and that is that the business of attracting, hiring and keeping competent professional staff as enrollments decline is becoming increasingly complex.

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There is a vast array of programming initiatives which might be taken by boards of education. Initiatives can be taken within schools under the present arrangement of legislation and regulations such as A/B programming where, for example, Physics 20 might be offered every second year and Physics 30 in the intervening years. The use of programmed instruction and other individualized pedagogical techniques can be implemented in individual schools.

Numerous variations of the multi-campus concept can be implemented to maintain a reasonable range of course offerings. For example, four schools might be combined and home economics and industrial arts offered in one central location and cross-busing used to bring pupils to that location for part of the day. In other program instances it may be simpler to take the teacher to the pupils rather than the pupils to the teacher. By assigning a teacher to a multi-site campus a teacher might move between three or four locations in the course of a week and thereby take the program to the pupils.

High technology, computer terminals and cable or satellite transmission of educational television, and correspondence courses can be used to bring a broad range of educational offerings to a small number of students. Here, the initiative may well rest with the provincial government. The technological advances required to bring educational television to every Saskatchewan pupil are available but must be put into place and a provincial grid established. Similarly, the Government Correspondence School is available but by upgrading courses and the delivery of information, correspondence courses could be made far more attractive. The use of conference calls, audio and video cassettes would serve to personalize what is coming to be called "distant education". Other possibilities include more extensive use of field trips and even short term intensive training, say in a residential setting.

Various forms of modularized curriculums, for example a two credit general science course could be developed by the Department of Education. Similarly, a reassessment of credit weightings and the placement of a higher priority on basic subject areas might serve to maintain an equalization of educational opportunities throughout Saskatchewan. Somewhat more extensive initiatives might be taken by making revisions in the school year. For example, a quarter system might be used rather than semester system to maintain and extend the range of educational opportunities. Within the quarter system a teacher might teach in three different schools during the year and if the universities were to make their College of Education programs compatible with the delivery of school programs, the teacher might take the final quarter of the year in a university setting receiving additional courses or retraining. Such a system might allow high school pupils to take a quarter of their school year in a residential setting but devote their time in such a setting to courses of study unavailable in their home school division.

The range of opportunities for programming initiative is So great that this brief reference must remain inadequate.

The opportunities are available both locally and provincially; locally by boards of education -- working within the present legislation and regulations and with currently available programs -- to refine and improve the program delivery system within their divisions, and provincially by the Department of Education and universities developing alternatives in terms of courses of Study specifically suited to low enrollment situations. These new courses of study will need to be supported by rather large in-service education efforts aimed at assisting implementation and improving teachers' ability to practice their profession in increasingly complex educational settings. It needs to be repeated, too, that programming decision making is central to the business of educational service delivery. The many other decisions that need to be taken to support program delivery are important but, none-the-less, secondary.

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As construction, maintenance and particularly energy costs rise it will be increasingly important that educational facilities be put to the most efficient use. there are a considerable number of initiatives that might be taken locally, most of which have already been tried in one form or another. The rental of unused facilities or parts of facilities to community groups and government agencies is a continuing possibility. By combining functions within existing facilities considerable savings can be had. Similarly, by using existing community facilities for school programs additional new expenditures can be avoided.

As new educational facilities are contemplated the use of relocatable classrooms might become an ever more attractive alternative. It is important though that these relocatable classrooms be designed to stringent educational and construction standards to ensure their continued usefulness.

The sharing of facilities between and among boards of education, comprehensive schools being a prime example, has served to reduce the financial burden of construction costs. More important, though, as fewer new facilities are constructed, is the necessity to retrofit existing structures to better use energy. It seems there is an opportunity here for provincial initiative, say by establishing a revolving funds whereby interest free loans could be made to boards of education to retrofit schools to conserve energy. As savings accrue to a board of education part of those savings could used to replenish the fund and thereby provide the necessary financial resources for other boards to draw upon and use the fund.

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As with facilities, perhaps the most critical area for initiative is energy conservation. Most school divisions heavily involved in transportation have experimented with smaller and more efficient buses and constantly review an revise routing to attain maximum efficiency. In view of the vast array of opportunities with respect to programming a call for increased attention to transportation efficiency seems insignificant. However, it should be kept in mind that whatever savings might be derived from transportation can be put to a programming purpose.

Opportunities for initiatives related to pupil transportation don't just rest with boards of education. Rural municipalities and the provincial government can assist with transportation efficiency by maintaining and improving secondary road systems in Saskatchewan.

Pupil transportation is no longer a rural phenomenon but is seen to be increasing in urban Saskatchewan. At best, urban boards view pupil transportation with cautious optimism. However, where pupils must travel long distances within cities to school, various forms of public transportation are being considered as the cost of gasoline soars. If gasoline rationing were to become a reality in Canada or if the cost of gasoline at the pump were not protected from world prices there is a very real possibility that there would be a strong call for improvements in urban transportation, particularly for high school pupils.

This brief listing of initiatives is intended to demonstrate the range of opportunities available to both provincial and local education authorities. It is important to recognize, too, that the majority of these initiatives have already been

implemented in one form or another in many Saskatchewan school divisions. Boards of education and their professional staffs have responded well to the challenge of declining enrollment. What is required, now, above all else is continued determination to preserve the quality of education and at the same time, to keep educational expenditures within manageable limits. Many tough decisions remain to be taken but there is some light at the end of the tunnel; enrollments will level off and begin to rise during the late 1980's.

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