The school district currently has 3,337 students enrolled, 127 more than the 3,210 budgeted, according to School Superintendent Thomas Scarice.
School administrators are evaluating how this will affect the budget, Scarice said. He said in addition to evaluating how it will affect day-to-day operations, the school board is also trying to determine how the enrollment increase will affect several big initiatives being discussed, including the possibility of full day kindergarten, and the future of the Town Campus Learning Center, a dedicated program designed to serve the needs of children from three to six years old with special needs.
Despite the unexpected jump in enrollment, the school year got off to a smooths start, Scarice said.
"Everyone is pulling together to welcome in all of these new students"
"We had a great start to the school year," he said. "A very smooth start. We had a number of new staff and administrators and everyone is pulling together to welcome in all of these new students that we didn't expect."
The most immediate question is how the increase in enrollment will affect the current year's budget. "That's what we're wrestling with right now," said Scarice, who started as school superintendent several months ago. "The reality is that we've already had to move around some funds because of shortages in books here or there, and we've had to add a section of kindergarten."
Scarice said administrators are going to look at the overall funding situation to see if there are areas where the district can cut back or do without.
Calculating the cost to the district is a complex process
Scarice said it's not as easy at taking a per pupil expenditure statistic and multiplying it by 127. "One kid could be a fraction of that and another kid could be $60,000 [because of special needs or because they need to be educated out of district] ... The kids are coming to us brand new and even if they have been identified as special needs, all we have is a piece of paper right now."
Scarice said enrollment projections are generally based on live births, real estate sales and kids moving up from one grade to the next. But it appears as though more children may have moved into the district, perhaps because of leasing through non-traditional means such as Craigslist, Scarice said.
"We have kids moving in K through 12," he said. "It's pretty much been across the board, not just in kindergarten, but also kids in grades four and six and eleven. A lot of them are coming up with leases as proof of residency."
Not clear whether it's a trend, or a one-year blip
When leases are done directly through Craigslist or other similar markets, tracking it becomes a challenge under the methods currently being used, Scarice said. He said it's not clear whether this is a trend, or just a one-year blip.
"That question remains to be answered. We will know more next year. But we are in a position right now where we are going to have to be very resourceful, and committed to doing the best we can with the resources the town has provided us. We are going to do our best to stay within budget, but we may have to do without certain things," he said.
He said the district already is "running lean," so the question of what will have to be cut back is a difficult one to answer. "We are wrestling with that and will be for weeks."
"This is about as complex as it can get for a district"
In addition to any budget adjustments made in the short-term, Scarice said, it's not clear how these new students might affect resources throughout the years. "There may be blossoming issues right now and it could be in the spring that we find out we are not meeting the student's needs," he said.
"This is about as complex as it can get for a district," he said.
Scarice said the school board is in discussions with the company that did the projections to evaluate whether they can adjust their methodology to take into account the leasing market going forward.
"Uncharted waters in our district"
"The leasing piece of it is uncharted waters in our district, to have it be this significant," he said.
"Our registrar has been in this position for quite some time and, anecdotally, she has seen more leases this year as proof of residency than any time before."
Because the real estate market, for the most part, remains weak, Scarice said it's possible that empty nesters who otherwise might be putting their homes on the market, are waiting a year or two to see if the market recovers, and that they are leasing in the meantime.
Full year kindergarten, TCLC future to be discussed in October
In October, Scarice said, the school board will be presented with a recommendation about whether the district should consider implementing full-day kindergarten for next year. "We have a committee putting together some findings and we will present this early October," Scarice said. He said the plan is to present the proposal to the full board October 16. The presentation likely will be over two consecutive meetings, he said, so that the board has plenty of time to look at recommendations and analyze them.
The board also is evaluating whether to close the current Town Campus Learning Center facility, at town campus, and house the program in one of the elementary schools, Scarice said.
"But we need to take into consideration the needs of the students," Scarice said. "These are fragile students and we need to take into consideration what is in the best interests of the students, in addition to other factors."
Increase in enrollment will play a part in those decisions; Brown bag lunch discussions planned
The increase in enrollment will play a part in those decisions, along with others, Scarice said. He said the school board also plans to take a close look at plans for next year's budget starting this fall as well.
"The board is very wise to wrestle with these issue and debate it publicly before the budget process," he said. "The board will be taking a stand on those two issue prior to the budget process."
In addition to discussing it with the board, Scarice said he intends to host a series of brown bag lunches to have informal discussions with members of the community on a variety of issues. He is working with the Scranton Memorial Library to see if they might have space. He said he also might look into having one at the Senior Center and other locations. He said the tentative date for the first one is Sept. 28.