Student count renews budget concerns

After initially appearing flat, enrollment in District 51 schools has taken a triple-digit dive.

The district counted 22,056 students on Sept. 23, 161 fewer students than the district counted during a corresponding day in September 2010.

The district has a window between Sept. 26 and today to make an official head count of students, which will be used to determine 2011–12 funding for the district. Results of the official count will not be available until November, according to District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita. But if the official count resembles the trend from Sept. 23, DeVita said the district may have to cut more than the $13.6 million already snipped from this year’s budget.

DeVita said the district expected to lose the equivalent of 165 full-time students. But the district is down 360 students year-over-year as of Sept. 23 when district charter, online and home-school support programs are factored out. The district takes money allocated from the state for each student at those non-traditional schools and forwards most of it to those programs, keeping a small portion for overseeing the charter, online and home-school support schools.

“That means we’d have another $1.1 million to cut out of this year’s budget” with the 360 figure, DeVita said.

While noting the Sept. 23 enrollment numbers are not official and may be subject to fluctuation, DeVita called the possibility of cutting more money “daunting.”

“It’s a lot,” she said. “Even if you lost 10 kids per school, that’s still across grade levels, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you can get rid of a teacher or a classroom.”

Any additional cuts would have to be made by the end of the calendar year.

DeVita said it does not appear enrollment is down because students flocked from the district to charters and online schools this year. She said enrollment is flat at Independence Academy’s middle school and up slightly in the school’s elementary grades.

Enrollment increased in the Mesa Valley Vision Home and Community Program, and there are more than 100 students enrolled in a new, district-run K–12 online school, Grande River Virtual Academy, but about half of those online students came from outside the district, according to District 51 Academic Options Director Ron Roybal.


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