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Decline in Pasco County school enrollment less than feared

LAND O'LAKES — The official fall head count shows Pasco County school enrollment is down — but the problem is only half as bad as district officials previously feared.

The district experienced a 191-student decrease, but it's much more manageable than the September count that showed a loss of about 400 students, threatening a loss of millions in state funding. The district's budget still is likely to shrink, but not by as much.

It will be a while before officials know the bottom-line figure, though. Pasco's state and local funding per student is set at $6,334, but there are other variables that affect individual students' funding. State analysts must review the classification of each student, which will determine exactly how much the district will get in student funding.

"From that state report, we will obtain a better picture of our budget shortfall, if any," district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said.

The official student count on Friday was 67,337, an improvement over the 20th-day count of 67,110. The overall drop comes despite state projections that the district would grow by 46 students.

District planners, expecting flat enrollment, already advised the School Board to set aside funding for 46 students while budgeting, with plans to return the money to the state. Now the board will have to do without money for another 191 students.

One of the key reasons for the enrollment decrease lies in new state law.

Florida lawmakers expanded access to McKay scholarships for students with disabilities during their spring session. As a result, Pasco saw its numbers of McKay students rise from 389 last year to 482 this year.

Those students take their state funding with them to private schools.

The district also has seen an increase in participation in home schooling, charter schools and virtual education. It is waiting to learn exact numbers of students attending the Pasco eSchool, which could further reduce the enrollment slide.

Adding to the anticipated financial woes could be financial penalties for failing to meet the 2002 class-size amendment requirements. The state has estimated those fines will be $4,800 for each student over in grades K-3 and $4,400 for each student over in grades 4-12.

The final count indicated that 18.5 percent of elementary classrooms, 15.9 percent of middle school classrooms and 13 percent of high school classrooms were out of compliance, representing 884 students.

That's better than preliminary counts in which the district was 986 students over the caps, but still well off the established goals of 18 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 students in high school.

"The funding was simply inadequate to meet the mandate without completely devastating noncore area classes," Romagnoli said.

Pasco was in full compliance with the amendment last year. It joined a growing list of districts that failed to hit the mark this year.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Decline in Pasco County school enrollment less than feared 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:43pm]
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