The total number of children in Rotorua schools is likely to drop in 2020 according to the Ministry of Education's provisional school rolls, even as the district's population grows. Journalist Cira Olivier finds out why.
The total number of students in Rotorua have dropped in spite of the district's growing population, according to provision school roll data.
Of the 45 schools in the Rotorua District, 23 had a provisional roll lower than last year's. The number of students across all schools had dropped by 149.
The Ministry of Education has released provisional roll data for Rotorua schools in 2020. The numbers are an estimate and may change.
The district's population has steadily increased, reaching an estimated 75,100 in June last year.
A shift in the makeup of the district's population may explain the trend, with StatsNZ estimating the number of five to nine-year-olds had dropped from 5830 to 5670 from the year ending June 2018 to 2019.
The number of 10 to 14-year-olds had increased from 5520 to 5690, and 15 to 19-year-olds had remained the same.
Aorangi Primary School's roll dropped by 16 pupils to an estimate of 135 for 2020.
Principal Debra Harrod said there were noticeably fewer five-year-olds coming through schooling.
She said the transient nature of the Pukehangi area could play a part in the drop of 16 pupils.
The overall drop in the number of Rotorua school children could be linked to several factors, she said, including housing availability, jobs, birthrate bubbles and an ageing population.
The population grew by 1.4 per cent on the previous year but the percentage of people aged 65 and over was also estimated to increase to 14.7 per cent, up 1.2 per cent from 2013.
Rotorua Boys High School has three new staff and expected a roll increase to around 1000 in 2020, not the decrease to 900 estimated in the provisional roll.
Principal Chris Grinter said in the last two years, there had been a decline, particularly in Year 13 students, who left school to pursue full employment.
According to StatsNZ, unemployment was 3.8 per cent in the September 2019 quarter, down from 5.1 per cent in December 2017.
"More students are focusing on vocational pathways and the trades compared to how it was a few years ago," Grinter said.
But this was being "more than compensated for" by the increased enrolments in both Year 9 and 10, he said.
The growth of the junior school was the reason for the additional teachers, with the school's teaching staff now 70.
Upper Atiamuri School defied the decreasing trend, expecting an extra 15 students on last year, for a provisional roll of 43.
The increase of over one third was the highest percentage increase of Rotorua's schools.
Principal Judith Smallbone said a big part of saving the declining roll was reconnecting with the community and having a clear focus for the school.
"The community really support the school, they raise money, they look after the grounds... they're just remarkable," she said.
An effort was also put into improving the school's online presence.
"We've had enrolments because of our Facebook page," she said.
The next big milestone would be 47 pupils as that would make the school eligible for extra funding.
While a small school had its perks, the growth, and the prospect of future growth, was exciting, Smallbone said.
There would be extra funding from the Ministry and more diversity in the school.
The school would also be able to enter its own school team at interschool events, rather than team-up with other schools.
Ōwhata School's roll dropped by 18 but principal Bob Stiles said the school was "very transient" and a lack of housing played a significant role in the trend.
Stiles was not concerned about the roll and expected to see more children enrol throughout the year.
Mokoia Intermediate School principal Rawiri Wihapi said the provisional school roll of 320 pupils was not accurate and the school had 317 at the end of last year and expected a 2020 roll of 332.
As the president of the Rotorua Principals' Association, Wihapi said he had not heard any concerns from other principals about school rolls.
Waikite Valley School was another small, rural school that jumped just over 20 per cent in size from 74 to 93 students.
Two Catholic schools, John Paul College and St Mary's Catholic School, stayed the same.
Western Heights High School's roll dropped the most, with 1196 estimated for 2020, 121 fewer than 2019.
Reporoa's Mihi School roll had the greatest percentage roll drop of just under a third, going from 38 to 29 pupils.
The Ministry of Education said provisional rolls were calculated using schools' predictions provided in July and other factors such as historical roll trends to settle on a number.
"Provisional rolls are used to give schools a guaranteed minimum staffing entitlement for the coming year, so schools can plan ahead.
"The steadily growing population in Rotorua will not necessarily correspond to an increase in school rolls."
Spread over 45 schools, Rotorua's estimated 2020 decrease was not unusual, she said.