Enrollment dips, but not as dramatically as feared

Enrollment at Glendale Unified declined for the seventh consecutive year to 26,393 students, which will mean a loss of about $1.3 million in state funding, district officials said Monday.

But the drop of 266 students was not as dramatic as anticipated, said Alex Rojas, director of student support services. The district originally planned for a loss of 463 students.

"While we are 266 shorter in terms of the number of kids who are enrolled, the good thing is our projected enrollment numbers were slightly more aggressive," Rojas said. "We were thinking we would lose more when we budgeted last year."

District funding from the state is based on average daily attendance. Glendale Unified receives $5,203 a year per student, although that number is in perpetual flux due to the current state budget crisis.

Glendale Unified has seen its enrollment decline by about 2,400 students since 2004, and district officials anticipate it will continue to decline.

"Our decline mirrors that of most of the state, and has mostly to do with birth rate and the economy," said school board Vice President Joylene Wagner. "As housing prices went up, people moved elsewhere."

But the district has budgeted for the changes, cushioning the blow, officials said. During the last seven years, the district cut administrative staff and consolidated departments in order to reduce costs, even before the economic recession and state budget crisis slammed public education funding, Glendale school board member Mary Boger said.

"The board recognizes this issue, and we have been planning for it for many years and have been constantly adjusting in preparation for it," Boger said. "It is not something that is sneaking up on us."

The district has implemented several programs to stem the loss of students and funding. At the top of the list is driving up attendance numbers.

Each time a student fails to show up for a day of school, the district loses about $29 of its state funding. In response, the district is rolling out an attendance campaign in an effort to boost daily attendance, to 98.6% from a historic average of 96%, Rojas said.

At the elementary school level, schools are sending home fliers educating parents about the financial implications of frequent, unnecessary absences, Rojas said. At the high school level, the district is taking a more aggressive approach, warning students that the district attorney's office can delay the issuance of or suspend driver's licenses if they are chronically absent.

"If you have 100 kids and 98% are coming to school every day, that is worth more money than if you have 125 kids and only 80% come each day," Rojas said. "You don't get the full payment if you just have a bunch of kids on the books but nobody is coming to school."

The district has also increased the number of out-of-district students. It is growing its foreign language academies, which offer dual-language instruction at several elementary schools. The program has attracted 258 students this year who are from outside Glendale Unified, up from 133 students last year. The increase brought a revenue boost of more than $500,000.

"Our [Foreign Language Academies of Glendale] program really was an attempt to bring students to our district for a very specialized program that would allow them to leave their district," Boger said.

At 2% of total student population, Glendale Unified's total out-of-district enrollment — 713 students — is well below that of some other districts. At La Cañada Unified, for example, out-of-district students make up 10% of the student body.

Glendale officials would like to boost inter-district permitting, Boger said, but they're hesitant to poach students from neighboring districts with which they maintain a strong working relationship.

Still, the power of economics may prompt a policy change.

"We will be revisiting that with a very thorough and intensive discussion about inter-district permits," Boger said.

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