October 29, 2020

TUSD enrollment decline puts finances in jeopardy

The district has lost nearly 6% of students this year, which could mean a loss of millions of dollars of funding.

360 file kids at school A file image of two students walking on a campus in Pima County.
AZPM Staff

The Tucson Unified School District has so far experienced a 5.7% drop in student enrollment compared with last school year, officials said this week, which they expect will lead to a loss of millions in funding.

The enrollment decline, as of Oct. 23, will likely require the district to make cuts, officials said at Tuesday's TUSD Governing Board meeting. Public education funding in Arizona is tied to student enrollment.

TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said on Tuesday that the district had lost about 200 families since the governing board last met on Oct. 6. Schools officials who have followed up with these families reported that many of the parents did not like that TUSD schools remained fully online, Trujillo said.

“There have been families that have not been happy not having full-time supervision of their kids, not being satisfied with on-campus learning spaces,” Trujillo said during the meeting.

Statewide, enrollment in public and charter schools is down about 5%.

The district is expecting a reduction in funding of at least $15 million due to the drop in enrollment, which will affect the 2021-22 school year. That estimate assumes enrollment remains flat during the next school year and that students will be back to in-person classes full time.

In Arizona, students enrolled in in-person classes are funded at 100%, while students taking fully remote classes are funded at 95%.

TUSD Executive Director of Financial Services Renee Weatherless presented multiple financial scenarios regarding possible hybrid start dates. The difference between starting hybrid classes in November, January or not at all this school year was negligible.

Overall, district officials projected around a $25 million impact on maintenance and operations revenue this year.

However, if the district lost 309 students, it would be financially pragmatic to begin hybrid classes, rather than risk losing even more students. That 309 student count includes the 200 families that had already left the district in October.

The governing board at the meeting voted to have hybrid-learning classes begin Nov. 12.

The district has an enrollment stabilization grant aimed at offsetting some of the losses up to the 40th day of the school year. For TUSD that date was Oct. 5. During the first 40 days of school, TUSD experienced a 4.9% decline in enrollment, Trujillo said. The grant is projected to be about $20 million, but the amount will not be finalized until late November.

The district also received an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grant worth $18.5 million.

Still, Trujillo said that the losses TUSD expects will likely result in some structural changes in the district to offset the loss.

“This is where the hard conversations are going to come. We’re going to have to build a budget to bring before you in May and June of '21 that’s going to be reflective of about $15 million in cost reductions and cuts,” Trujillo said during the meeting. “And those types of cost reductions aren’t the small stuff that we’ve done like the last three years.”

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