Student enrollment in Toledo Public Schools fell by 1,649 students from last year, leaving the district with 26,600 in kindergarten through 12th grade.
And since the 1998-99 school year, 12,269 students have left the district, which reflects an average loss of more than 1,100 students annually. The drop in student population over the past 11 school years is about equal to the total number of students currently enrolled in Toledo public elementary schools alone.
But such a decline has larger implications than just fewer students in the city's public school classrooms.
The latest annual decrease could translate into the district missing out on as much as $9.4 million in state and local revenue this school year, given that school district budgets are mostly built based on student enrollment.
The most recent decrease in student enrollment continues what has become an annual trend at TPS - and mirrors similar drops in enrollment at other urban school districts across the state.
"We're seeing similar patterns in other urban [school districts] based on student movement to charters, use of vouchers, and general population declines," said Bill Wendling, executive director of the Ohio 8 Coalition.
Enrollment projections commissioned by district officials point to a continual slide in the number of future TPS students. However, the 26,600-student number from this year's statewide enrollment count - taken in October - is down more than 270 students from district projections for the year.
It's a drop that local school officials are attributing to a combination of the same factors Mr. Wendling said is happening elsewhere in the state: the declining population of Toledo, the expansion of the Ohio Educational Choice scholarship program, and more families selecting charter schools over public schools.
"I believe that in this case, quite a few have chosen the ed choice option. Some have left town," said Superintendent John Foley. "We were hopeful that it wouldn't be so drastic."
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the city of Toledo has lost nearly 16,000 residents since 1998. Some of those Toledoans have gone to surrounding suburbs, others have moved out of the region or state, a trend that has been occurring for more than three decades.
That trend has also affected the number of students enrolled in the Diocese of Toledo's metro area Catholic schools. Since the 1998-99 school year, they have lost 3,600 students - from 11,420 to 7,814 for this school year. The local diocese operates 21 of the 26 local private schools that are participating in the educational choice, or voucher program, which allow students whose neighborhood school is on the state's academic watch or emergency list to receive a state-sponsored scholarship to attend a private school.
Mr. Foley estimated that about 600 of the students who were lost from Toledo's public schools last year took advantage of those scholarships.
Charter schools are also contributing to the decline in public school enrollment.
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 6,428 students - or 19 percent of Toledo's public school children - attended charter schools last year instead of public schools.
The drop in public school enrollment has significant implications for the school district's annual budget, which is based on the average number of students enrolled throughout the year. That is determined mostly by the October head count. Another count occurs in February, but those numbers do not weigh as heavily in the financial equation.
"Our budget is based on enrollment," said Steve Steel, president of the Toledo Board of Education. "If we lose a few students here and there it doesn't reduce our cost, but it decreases our revenue."
TPS receives about $5,732 for each student from state and local funds, according to Dan Romano, the district's treasurer.
Drastic shifts in student population make it more difficult to project enrollment figures.
"It becomes a budgetary challenge. It's a major concern for budgeting purposes," said Mr. Steel.
Mr. Romano recognizes that balancing the district's budget directly correlates to the ability to respond to changes in enrollment.
That means finding ways to make cuts to the budget, which would likely come in the way of layoffs.
For instance, in this school year's budget, the district planned for 30 fewer teachers than it had last year, as a reaction to previous enrollment declines.
It was the first time in about five years of experiencing constant declines that the district had to make such a move.
"There are only certain times you can make the adjustment in the classroom. And we look at the right times to do that, [which would be] at the beginning of the year and at the semester break," Mr. Romano said.
When asked if there could be teacher layoffs prior to next semester, which starts on Jan. 5, Mr. Romano did not rule out the possibility.
"That would be the appropriate time to do it if we had to do something," he said. "It's not uncommon that we are looking at that. It's prudent on our part that we are always looking ahead."
Fran Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said she's hoping that is not the case.
Ms. Lawrence said making teacher cuts during the school year only interrupts teaching and learning.
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