With housing developments booming across Pasco County, school district officials anticipated strong enrollment gains this academic year.
Instead, they’ve seen only modest growth, with most of it going to new charter schools and to Pasco eSchool.
“I keep asking myself, where are the kids?” superintendent Kurt Browning said.
As of Sept. 18, the district saw its student numbers rise by 504, a quarter of the 1,933 additional children it had projected before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the spring. Traditional district schools experienced declines across the board, with only three campuses — Watergrass Elementary, Cypress Creek Middle and Anclote High — reporting higher enrollment than anticipated.
The reductions looked like this: elementary down 2,762, middle down 845 and high down 69. Meanwhile, Pasco eSchool, the district’s independent virtual program, rose 2,807, while charters increased by 1,400.
District officials expected to lose about 1,500 children to charters this year, planning director Chris Williams said.
Overall, Williams said, enrollment isn’t as low as it initially appeared, before educators reached out to students who hadn’t shown up. For a time, it looked as if the district was coming about 3,000 short of projections.
Some other districts are reporting being thousands of students shy of their expectations.
If these numbers hold, there’s a possibility that Pasco could lose $8 million to $10 million in the second semester, Browning said. That depends on whether state officials decide to continue funding schools based on pre-pandemic projections, as they’re doing for the first semester, or if they change the approach.
“What concerns me is if they don’t hold us harmless for the rest of the year and they make us true up,” Browning said. “Then we will have financial issues.”
Unlike some nearby districts, Browning said he did not want to start announcing major cuts based on what might or might not occur. He’s focusing his attention on trying to convince the governor and education commissioner to stay the course on funding, and to recalculate for the 2021-22 year instead.
At the same time, the administration will start looking at how to deal with vacant positions and other belt tightening measures.
“I don’t want to incite fear among anybody,” Browning said. “We’re just not there yet.”