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School enrollment declines in Hernando County by 327 students

BROOKSVILLE — There were 327 fewer students in Hernando County classrooms Friday than there were a year ago, according to the school district's annual 10th day head count.

The district's kindergarten through 12th-grade enrollment dropped from 22,147 to 21,820. It also fell 187 students below staff projections.

The total was 639 students below the count of 22,459 students in 2010.

While the head count used for state funding and for class-size determinations comes in October, the 10th-day count is important internally.

The district uses the enrollment numbers to start adjusting class sizes, moving teachers within schools or among schools, in order to keep classes from being oversized or too small.

Typically, about six to 12 teachers switch schools to adjust to enrollment needs, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

"That will save us money," Vitalo said, noting that it means the district won't need to hire additional teachers. "It's an effort to be very efficient with the staff."

While the district will use the numbers to shift resources, enrollment is hardly stagnant this early in the school year and is expected to increase.

One of the more bizarre reasons: Some parents simply don't send their kids to school until after Labor Day, which is Monday.

"I don't know what it is," said superintendent Bryan Blavatt. "It's their little way of protest."

The enrollment change will not be great, but noticeable, he said.

Vitalo said one of the reasons for the late enrollees is that families move here from up North, where in some places school doesn't start until after Labor Day.

"People are still thinking up-North style," he said. "It's a Northern mentality."

Blavatt said the numbers will continue to increase through September.

"I take it all with a grain of salt in the first couple of weeks," he said.

The largest enrollment difference came at J.D. Floyd K-8 School, which fell 104 students below projections. The next-largest discrepancy, a 69-student shortfall, came at Powell Middle School.

Blavatt said this year's count is just about on par with recent years.

"Our numbers are around the same ballpark," he said.

Last year, the difference between the projection and the actual number of students on the 10th day was 51. The year before, it was 84.

He said he wasn't surprised by the slight decline.

For many years, the school district couldn't build schools fast enough to keep up with Hernando County's growing population. The collapse of the housing industry and the high unemployment rate have slowed growth, and some families have left the area.

"The growth spurts over," Blavatt said. "We're into maintaining and trying to keep our numbers."

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

School enrollment declines in Hernando County by 327 students 08/31/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 31, 2012 7:24pm]
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