The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
Toledo Public Schools’ enrollment again dropped by several hundred students this year, continuing a trend of decline that district officials attribute in large part to the city’s shrinking population.
About 800 fewer students were enrolled in TPS schools Friday compared with the third Friday of last school year, according to district statistics. That put the school system’s total student population at 22,540, down from about 25,000 three years ago. The district’s enrollment has shrunk by more than 10,000 students in less than a decade.
Jim Gault, chief academic officer for TPS, said the district maintained most of its student market share, stemming the tide of charter schools and private school vouchers that siphon off enrollment from the district. He believes much of the district’s loss is tied to continued departure from Toledo — either to suburbs or out of the area completely — and used the abundance of boarded-up homes in the central city as evidence. Improving performance in TPS is, he said, the best way to reverse that loss.
“As you drive around you gotta think the population in the city is declining,” Mr. Gault said. “I can’t think of a better catalyst than a strong education system [to bring people back].”
The continued decline in enrollment means less money from the state, which distributes funds based on the number of students in a district. But this year’s drop is about 200 students fewer than TPS officials projected in prior financial forecasts, meaning no busted budgets this year.
Despite the continued decline, Mr. Gault pointed to several bright spots in enrollment. Most schools in the Start feeder pattern added students, as did Start High School itself, and the Bowsher feeder pattern’s population stayed mostly stable.
Enrollment at the district’s two magnet high schools, Toledo Early College High School and the Toledo Technology Academy, grew modestly. Robinson and Pickett elementary schools, two of the K-8 buildings that receive large federal grants to institute reforms, added students, although the third, Glenwood Elementary, had one of the largest drops in elementary population in the district.
And nearly 90 percent of eighth graders who participated in a new TPS program called Early High School Options, which allows students to take more advanced classes at their neighborhood high schools for part of each day, enrolled in TPS high schools for their freshman year. The students in that program are the district’s higher performers and frequently are targeted for recruitment from other schools, Mr. Gault said.
A negative surprise for TPS was the steep drop in students at Waite High School, which had done a better job than some other neighborhood high schools in maintaining population.
The school lost 125 students, dropping to 916 from 1,041 last year, a decrease Mr. Gault partly attributed to the open enrollment policies in neighboring districts such as Oregon and Northwood. Some of those nearby districts had once capped open enrollment, he said, but budget cuts prompted them to lift those caps.
Oregon City Schools said its enrollment decreased slightly this year, to 3,836 from 3,855. Other districts grew. Washington Local schools added more than 100 students, to 6,881 from 6,777 last year at this time, according to building head counts. Enrollment in the Sylvania school district, meanwhile, remained nearly unchanged at 7,744, or two fewer students than at the same time last year.
Declines in TPS enrollment come amid the district’s latest levy campaign, and the continued contraction of its student population could make persuading a public ever less directly engaged with the district difficult.
Mr. Gault argued that even those without relatives in the school system should support the levy, because he said a strong public school system would improve the city as a whole.
“If we are forced to cut, it’s going to hurt those neighborhoods and those schools,” Mr. Gault said.
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