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HEALTHY ENROLLMENT RELIEVES LAYOFF FEARS

Hernando welcomes more students than projected, signaling funding would remain intact.

The kids showed up after all.

Hernando school officials came into this school year with fears of empty desks - as many as 500 students short of the projections on which budget and staffing levels were based.

But on Friday, the 10th day of school, the district boasted 22,612 students. That's 191 students more than the 22,421 that officials had projected.

It's also more than the full-time enrollment figure of 22,529 the state uses to dole out funding, though that number is calculated differently because it's based on student hours.

Still, the numbers bode well for the bottom line and for employees who feared layoffs, district and teachers union officials said.

"It looks like we're in good shape," interim superintendent Sonya Jackson said.

"Right now, it's safe to say we're right on target," said Desiree Henegar, district chief financial officer.

The district had set aside $2.2 million because the state expects to get funding back student shortfalls. But Hernando is not out of the financial woods yet, Henegar warned.

The 10-day count is a good indicator of how the rest of the year will go. In October, the state Department of Education looks at enrollment figures again. If numbers are lower than projected, the state takes money back.

"They come back and say, 'How many students did you really serve?'" Henegar said. "Last year, we started high and lost kids during the year."

And with the economy suffering, state revenue could come in under projections. If it does, education funding could be cut.

Education officials are particularly concerned that the state's budget is built using revenue from the Seminole Indian gambling compact signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, Henegar said. That compact has yet to be approved by the Legislature.

"We've been directed by (the Department of Education) to be extremely prudent in our budgets because there are things that are just out of our control," Henegar said.

Still, teachers are relieved, said Joe Vitalo, Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president.

"It is good news in the sense that we're not worried about any layoffs," Vitalo said. "There is job security, so people can focus on the classroom. A lot of the doom and gloom that was being spieled last spring has not come about."

That's not to say that some teachers won't be shifted around within their schools or to a different school altogether.

Projections are made for each school's enrollment, and those numbers are close in most cases. Officials will look at the data next week to see where staff reassignments might be needed, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services.

Springstead High had 2,232 students as of Friday, 160 students more than expected.

The additional students are spread among the grades, and the school is managing the extra load well, said principal Susan Duval.

"I would say that our teachers are doing a remarkably great job of handling their classes," said Duval, whose overcrowded school will get some relief next fall when a new high school opens north of Weeki Wachee.

Central High, on the other hand, had 1,828 students, 63 students fewer than projected.

Other schools with higher deviations:

- Challenger K-8 in Spring Hill had 79 students more than expected, with a total of 1,564.

- Floyd K-8 in Spring Hill counted 1,064 students, 56 more than expected.

- Powell Middle School had 49 students fewer than projected, with a total of 942.

Explorer K-8, overcrowded in its first year in 2008, has more students than expected but isn't swamped. The school population stood at 1,938 on Friday, or 23 more students than projected.

Officials at Nature Coast Technical High were holding their collective breath after the School Board last month invited all 264 students on the magnet school's wait list to attend if they wished.

But as of Friday, only 69 of those students had taken the district up on its offer, principal Toni-Ann Noyes said. The school's total student count was 1,510, 30 more than projected.

That's manageable, Noyes said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

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