LAND O'LAKES — A week into the new school year, rumors of continued growth in Pasco County school enrollment appear greatly exaggerated.
And that could cost the district millions.
On Friday, 63,137 students showed up for classes at the district's traditional, alternative and charter schools. That's 250 students fewer than attended on the fifth day of 2007-08, and nearly 1,600 fewer than the state projected when setting budgets.
That spending plan, which already has taken some hits, called for Pasco to grow by 1,387 students.
"I would feel a lot more comfortable if I had 1,000 more kids already," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
Fiorentino says she did not expect an enrollment drop this year — but she doesn't expect to reach the state's projection, either.
If the district misses the mark by 1,000 students in October, as looks possible, it would lose about $4.5-million in state money. That would translate into about 78 teaching positions that won't be needed.
"What we have already done because of the projections is, schools that need new teachers have frozen the positions," Fiorentino said.
That move will allow officials to assess whether they need to move teachers from underenrolled schools to those that have higher than expected numbers.
Going by the book
On the negative side, Sanders and Hudson elementary schools were down by about 100 students each and Pasco, River Ridge and Gulf high schools were down by about 150.
On the positive side, Oakstead Elementary and Long Middle were up about 100 students.
"They're doing it by the contract," said United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb. "I certainly would not be okay if they were letting people go, yet hiring people from the outside. They're doing what they have to do. In these tight economic times they'd be foolish if they did anything else."
Pasco's attendance figures follow the trend of surrounding districts.
Hillsborough's traditional school attendance on Friday was down nearly 2,200 students from the same time a year ago. Hernando also reported lower than expected numbers.
Officials guessed that remnants of Tropical Storm Fay might have depressed the attendance.
In some places "it was pouring when the kids were waiting to get on the bus, or at least at the time they would have been waiting to get on the bus," planning director Chris Williams said.
Other factors might include the opening of charter schools and the weakness of the housing market.
Fiorentino figured the School Board could handle the resulting budget cuts by reducing the district's number of teachers. She wasn't optimistic about other pending budget reductions that might come because of declining state tax revenue.
"That would hit programs," she said.
Fiorentino has not yet recommended any spending changes for that expected loss. She said she wanted to see her first round of cuts proposed to the original 2008-09 budget get approved first.
The School Board plans to have its final budget public hearing on Sept. 16.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.