LAND O'LAKES — An unexpected decline in student enrollment means Pasco County stands to lose millions of dollars from the state.
If the numbers from Pasco's 20-day count hold into October, officials said, the upshot could be more budget cuts.
"It's certainly going to be a struggle, there's no doubt about that," School Board member Cynthia Armstrong said. "We will be having to look at really any possible cut that we can get."
The situation is this: As of Wednesday, the Pasco school system counted 67,110 students in its various programs, ranging from traditional schools to juvenile justice. That's 393 students fewer than expected.
The problem is, district planners expected to see a decline of just 46 students this year. So when the board agreed on its 2011-12 budget, it set aside the funding amount for 46 children, leaving a difference of 347.
Pasco's state and local funding per student is set at $6,334.
District officials have not yet calculated exactly how large a funding reduction the system faces because details other than simple attendance must be factored in. But they know that last year, when the district fell about 200 students shy of projections, they had to come up with about $4 million.
"There's going to be some cutting somewhere," board member Steve Luikart said. "It's going to be an Easter egg hunt again. Under what tree do we look for what money?"
District planning director Chris Williams said his staff has begun to review where the enrollment projections were off and why. Initial analysis doesn't turn up any trends, he said.
Some schools, such as Chester Taylor Elementary and Wiregrass Ranch High in eastern Pasco, have higher than expected numbers of students while others, including Denham Oaks Elementary in central Pasco, logged in dozens lower than projected.
Armstrong, who is a real estate broker, noted that foreclosures continue to pile up in the county as people lose their jobs and cannot make their mortgages. Many people leave the area when that happens, she said.
"That might be a part," Armstrong said. "It's a reflection of the economy."
The shrinking school population does not bode well for the district's bottom line, which already saw its general fund budget decrease by $14.8 million this year, Luikart said. Overall, the budget shrank by more than $50 million, prompting the board to impose layoffs and negotiate furloughs to make ends meet.
"We have to wait and find out exactly what the bottom line figure looks like," Luikart said. "I'm sure the board will have some recommendations to at least look at."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.