Despite increasing its enrollment for the current school year, Santa Rosa City Schools enrollment fell slightly below projections, meaning Sonoma County's largest school district will have to tap its reserve fund to bridge the gap between what officials planned for in incoming state revenue and what will actually arrive.
The district currently has 16,001 students, 72more pupils than last year. But budget projections expected an even greater increase and the difference means that approximately $659,100 in state funding the district expected to flow into its coffers will not arrive. Last year, the hit was $700,100.
"It's not a loss, because we never had it to start with," said Associate Superintendent Doug Bower.
The vast majority of school funding is directly linked to enrollment and school districts build budgets based on enrollment projections. The change will likely affect the district's reserve fund, but not operating budget.
The district has 16,001 students enrolled currently and an approximately $130 million annual budget of which $87.6 million is in the unrestricted general fund.
Kindergarten through sixth-grade enrollment is 94 pupils above district projections, but secondary enrollment is 137 students below projections. The district's four dependent charter schools fell 100 students below projections.
Board member Jenni Klose said the district would benefit from tracking where students go if they choose to attend school out of the district.
"Do we have some kind of system to track where our kids go because I think that would tell us a lot," she said.
Officials pointed to the establishment of two new charter middle schools in the Rincon Valley and Bellevue school districts as one reason for the drop off in secondary students — largely seventh-graders.
"I attribute both of those to the opening of the new charter schools," Bower said.
The Stony Point Academy in Bellevue currently has 42 seventh-graders, according to Superintendent Alicia Henderson. Bellevue sixth-graders have traditionally matriculated to Cook Middle School.
Cook's enrollment on the eighth day of school — the checkpoint date the district uses for enrollment comparisons — is down 64students from last year. Slater Middle School is down 78 students from 2012-13.
But Comstock, which has endured declining enrollment for years, is up 43students from last year when they also posted an increase. Elsie Allen High School posted a 30-pupil gain and Piner High increased its enrollment by 44 students.
Still, board members said the district needs more information on where its students are coming from and where they are going if they are choosing to go to a school outside of the district.
The increase in the number of charter schools and the expansion of school choice for parents and students has led to an increased volatility in enrollment patterns, Bower said.
"We have a pretty discriminating parent population," Bower said. "In the end, you never really know until the bell rings."
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.