The financially strapped Toledo Public Schools lost nearly 1,400 students this year - a fact that makes additional staff cuts inevitable, Superintendent Jerome Pecko said Friday.
"We can't afford not to reduce staff, and that's very unfortunate," Mr. Pecko said. "We have to do that. We have a fiduciary responsibility to staff the school district according to the budget that we have."
A building-by-building head count taken Friday showed the district had 24,354 students, down from 25,745 at this time last year. Overall, the district's enrollment dipped 5.4 percent, with the greatest drop at the middle and high school levels.
Enrollment at the middle schools was down more than 11 percent, while high school enrollment dropped nearly 8 percent.
Mr. Pecko said he's sure the elimination of high school bus service and the extension of walking zones for other students to two miles played a role in some parents' decisions to move their children, as well as the cuts in athletics.
In June, the board eliminated all sports for middle school students, while low-participation sports such as golf, wrestling, and cross country were dropped in the high schools as part of a plan to close a $39 million deficit.
The district also laid off about 400 employees, including 237 classroom teachers, and negotiated 1 percent pay cuts.
The superintendent, who took over the top job last month, called the drop in enrollment a "double whammy" for the district's finances because the district loses about $7,000 in state funding for each student lost.
"You lose the students. You don't want to see them go, and on top of that, you lose dollars," Mr. Pecko said.
Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said she believes cuts in transportation and sports were among the factors that sent families looking for new schools. Some also were concerned about the elimination of crossing guards - a service that was reinstated just six days before school started, she said.
"I expected student loss this year considering the instability of the school district and some of the budget-cut decisions by the administration and the Board of Education," Ms. Lawrence said.
She said she has been asked to meet with school officials early next week to discuss teacher staffing.
"With [enrollment] numbers like that, I will not be surprised if they propose additional reductions at a time when we should be bringing back members," Ms. Lawrence said.
School board President Bob Vasquez said it was imperative to him that the board get this fall's enrollment figures as soon as possible "so that we can staff our schools appropriately, because every day we go beyond the staff that we need, we incur a deficit."
Mr. Vasquez didn't want to guess why enrollment dropped by nearly 1,400 students. He said he wants to find out where students enrolled this fall to see if that will give the board an idea of why they left.
"If they're going to charter schools that don't have sports, then we know that sports was not so much a factor," he said. "If they're going to schools that do have sports, that may have been a factor."
He said the district has its work cut out.
"It's very disappointing because we have a lot to offer at Toledo Public Schools, but you know this is a time when families have more options for education," Mr. Vasquez said. "What this says to me is we need to continue to work hard making sure we have the extracurricular activities and we have the options for students so that they will stay here or they will come back."
Mr. Pecko said passage of a 7.8-mill levy in November would go a long way toward helping the district "stop the bleeding, stop the flight of students out of the district, and definitely enable us to restore some of the cuts."
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