TAMPA — The continued exodus of public school children for publicly funded charters is not expected to end, and it has some Hillsborough County school district officials concerned.
Charter schools project they will serve 18,948 students when classes resume in August, according to estimates given Monday at contract talks between the district and the teachers union.
If that number holds — and charter schools director Jenna Hodgens is somewhat skeptical — it will represent a sharp increase from the 14,780 reported in September 2013.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it was closer to 16,500 or 17,000," Hodgens said.
That's still an increase of 15 percent, following several years of growth as great as 20 percent.
"It used to be we'd lose a few kids, and it wasn't a big deal," Stephanie Woodford, the district's chief human resource officer, said at Monday's meeting.
"But if this continues, we've got huge hurdles in store."
Funding leaves the district, too, when families opt for independently operated charters. The district this year estimates it will lose $11.9 million from its budget, based on the higher projections. That money arguably follows the students to the charter schools. But it means less flexibility for the district, which still has fixed costs such as maintaining its buildings and operating buses.
Six new charter schools are opening, including a high school in Town 'N Country. And other existing schools are expanding.
The $11.9 million loss is just one in a long list of expenses that will eat away at the windfall teachers might have anticipated this year when the governor and Legislature announced they were increasing state funding for education.
District officials also expect they'll pay:
• an additional $1.5 million for the McKay Scholarship Program for disabled students, based on a change in the law that makes it easier to qualify.
• $12 million for scheduled teacher raises for those who qualify under the new Empowering Effective Teachers pay scale.
• $9 million to cover an additional hour of reading at 26 low-performing schools.
• $5.8 million in rising health insurance costs.
Lesser amounts are needed for eight new supervisors to assist with special-needs transportation, nurses and classroom aides who will no longer be paid by a federal grant and the rising cost of a state pension program.
The list adds up to $47 million, which is $2 million more than the state increase, said budget manager Susan Garcia. Union negotiators have asked for details about some of these items as bargaining continues.
While some of the costs are inevitable, Woodford said officials are looking closely at the charter school issue to analyze how district-run schools might be able to win departing students back.
"Where are they? Why are they leaving?" Woodford said. "Twelve million out of our budget right off the top isn't good, so that's been a topic of conversation."
In some cases, she said, "We're trying to reach out to the students who left, just like we do when they withdraw, and find out why they're going elsewhere."
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @Marlenesokol.