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Dip in enrollment could cost LAUSD hundreds of millions

Vanessa Romo | March 18, 2014

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images-1The Los Angeles Unified School District is losing an average of 2.6 percent of students attending traditional public schools — that’s about 56,000 kids — and it’s costing the district hundreds of millions dollars each year.

By the current formula, which calculates how much money goes to districts based on student attendance, about $292.4 million will no longer flow to LA Unified’s public schools in the 2014-15 school year.

At a special school board meeting today, during which the board members discussed the district budget for this year and next under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, Megan Reilly, Chief Financial Officer for LA Unified, said district projections indicate the enrollment problem is only going to get worse.

In the 2015-16 school year the district expects to lose another 2.9 percent of non-charter students, bringing that group’s enrollment down by 72,000 students over two years. It would make it the 12th straight year of enrollment decline.

Reilly attributes the steady loss of students to the increasing popularity of charter schools. “About 44 percent of the movement has been to charters,” she told school board members.

But the majority of the decline is due to demographic changes as Southern California birthrates decline, and people are moving out of the area.

As a result, Reilly warned board members to “pay special attention to the district’s fixed costs which don’t change when enrollment declines.”

“They can start taking up more of your budget,” she said.

That’s especially true when it comes to paying out pensions and health benefits for retirees which continue to grow.

Board member Steve Zimmer tried to provide a ray of sunshine on the gloomy news.

“You’re basing these figures on charter enrollment that we’ve already approved,” he said, perhaps suggesting that the school board may want consider restricting charter application approvals, something the board has been accused of not doing.

Although he acknowledged “we have work to do in terms of children being born,” Zimmer suggested the board could devise strategies to boost enrollment and retain more area students.

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