Toledo Public Schools has 2,105 fewer students than last year, according to data released yesterday, marking the greatest year-to-year decline since the district's enrollment began to decrease steadily nearly a decade ago.
The school system now has 30,774 students, down from 32,879 last school year, and 33,866 the previous year.
The district had 39,395 students during the 1996-1997 academic year.
School officials stressed yesterday that the figures are still preliminary and could change.
But the trend in declining en-rollment is expected to continue next school year.
Last month, the Toledo Board of Education accepted a five-year financial forecast that predicts a $19 million budget deficit for the 2006-2007 school year.
District Treasurer James Fortlage said the shortfall is based on the loss of another 2,000 students for that year compared to the current school year.
"It's obviously devastating to the financial bottom line, and makes it difficult to project for our budget," Superintendent Eugene Sanders said.
Sixty percent of Toledo Public Schools' funding comes from the state and is directly related to the number of students and whether they are in regular classes or special education.
Each lost student generally means a loss of about $3,500 in basic aid per pupil, but the district receives substantially more for special-education students.
Mr. Sanders said he hopes the district's new building program, improved academic rating, and continued focus on customer service will help prevent students from leaving.
"I think there is a great opportunity to turn the tide on this issue, particularly given the new facilities," he said.
Toledo Public Schools has closed buildings because of the plummeting numbers and, in August, the board of education agreed on a plan that eventually could close seven more schools, including Libbey High School.
School board member David Welch said it would be difficult not to shutter more schools.
"Things will likely get worse before they get better," he said.
The growth of charter schools in Lucas County, population shifts to the suburbs, and declining birth rates are being blamed for the enrollment decline.
"I know we have had challenges across the state, primarily due to charter schools," Mr. Sanders said. "My guess is the majority of this is a charter school issue, then the move to suburbs and the lower number of births."
Last year, Toledo Public Schools lost $37.6 million in subsidies because of the number of parents choosing charter schools. The district could lose $45.7 million this year, Mr. Fortlage said.
During the 2003-04 school year, 4,164 students in the Toledo district attended charter schools. That figure was 5,451 during 2004-2005.
So far this year, the school district has counted 5,941 of its students attending charter schools. However, 963 of those attend TPS-sponsored charter schools, for which the district receives revenue.
Toledo Public Schools collected just over $3.4 million last academic year because of its sponsorship of Brigadoon Academy, Phoenix Academy, and Polly Fox Academy. This year, it added the Imani Learning Academy, and is now expected to collect about $6 million because of its four charter schools.
Those schools provide another option for parents and generate some revenue for the struggling school system, but that money will not avert layoffs and more school closures, Mr. Sanders said.
"The bottom line is we have to continue to strengthen our own internal schools so we continue to retain students and diminish the number of students who choose charter schools as an option," the superintendent said.
He called on more district employees to promote traditional public schools to parents rather than charter schools, as teachers from Birmingham Elementary School did in August when they handed out flyers outside nearby Eagle Academy, an East Toledo charter school.
Charter schools are publicly funded but can be privately managed.
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