Updated Feb. 16
After decades of growth, enrollment is declining at San Antonio’s second largest school district. This school year, the North East Independent School District saw its biggest drop yet: almost 1,500 students.
At a school board meeting Monday night, district officials said the size of the loss took them by surprise, and they need to find a way to stem the tide amid increasing competition from charter schools.
“Quite honestly, the biggest impact to the North East school district over the last three to five years has been the influx of charter schools to Bexar County,” Superintendent Brian Gottardy said. “This is by far the number one challenge of the district.”
“It’s perplexing,” he added. “Parents have a choice where they send their kids, and we’re trying to figure out why so many of them are choosing to go to a public charter school.”
Because state funding is distributed based on a per pupil basis, the drop in enrollment means the district receives less money.
This school year, North East expected to have 66,446 students, but only 65,475 enrolled, according to information presented to trustees Monday. That created a budget shortfall of about a thousand students at a cost of almost $2 million.
Dorian Galindo, interim director of performance and planning at North East, called the funding loss a “perfect storm” when paired with the overall drop in state support for education.
She presented the information to trustees in preparation for a budget discussion in March. In order to avoid another surprise, the district recalculated enrollment projections. Next year, North East expects enrollment to drop by almost 1,300.
“The public school landscape is changing,” said Galindo, adding that the district can no longer expect charter school enrollment to level off.
After hearing the presentation, trustee Sandy Hughey said North East does a good job educating kids, but needs to do a better job communicating its successes to parents.
“My frustration is our parents are not getting that message,” Hughey said. “I hate to see this because our children are the ones who are going to lose out.”
Part of the challenge, according to Gottardy, is the loss of students is too spread out across the district’s 68 schools to easily downsize.
“If it was concentrated in one area, you could reduce the number of teachers in that school; you could reduce the principals,” Gottardy said. “But if you have 22 students and you lose three, you still need someone to teach the 19 who are left.”
District officials said North East’s main charter school competitors are BASIS, Great Hearts, IDEA and KIPP.
Yvette Reyna, director of communications for Great Hearts’ Texas charter schools, said she hadn’t run the numbers but it was likely that some of their students do come from North East.
“We have heard the same kind of thing from other districts as well,” Reyna said. “Ultimately we want for every student to have the opportunity to have a quality education. I think it’s something (as schools) we can all agree on.”
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story contained misspellings of the North East Independent School District.