All but one Charlottesville elementary school saw significant enrollment drops to start this school year when compared to what the division was expecting and last year’s enrollment.
Charlottesville Schools’ total enrollment of 4,089 is 191 fewer than what was projected and down by 220 compared to Sept. 30 of last year. The includes kindergartners through 12th graders. Jackson-Via Elementary, Buford Middle and Charlottesville High were the only schools to enroll more students than the division projected.
The division was expecting about 4,280 students this year, according to the presentation from Kim Powell, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
Although enrollment is down by about 4% compared to projections, elementary schools saw enrollment decrease by about 13% to 19%. Venable Elementary had the largest drop.
Powell said she didn’t know why Jackson-Via bucked the trend among elementary schools.
School systems across Virginia are required to report enrollment numbers, which are used to calculate state funding, to the state by Sept. 30.
Public schools statewide have seen a loss of 35,000 students this school year, according to a survey by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. Virginia Mercury reported that the decrease could mean a loss of $146 million in basic aid funding from the state.
In Albemarle County, 919 fewer students than projected enrolled for this school year.
The number of students in city schools dropped quickly during the week of Aug. 10 and Aug. 31, according to a chart presented to board members.
The numbers are starting to level off, Powell said.
The division’s data team is still reviewing the enrollment numbers, but Powell estimated that the drop could mean about $480,000 to $500,000 less in state funding.
“But we’re not sounding alarm bells this evening because there’s a broad recognition that there’s another wave of CARES money that’s slated to come for schools,” Powell said.
Lower enrollment means smaller class sizes, Powell said, which will help with social distancing in the event that in-person classes resume.
“We’ll look at the silver lining in what would otherwise be perceived as a dark cloud,” she said.
During Thursday’s School Board meeting, board members discussed reopening plans and virtual learning. They plan to meet later this month to discuss the issue further.
Charlottesville tasked an advisory committee to come up with potential models for returning to in-person classes. Those recommendations are due by Oct. 14, and the board will meet after that.
Any plan for reopening would require four weeks to implement starting after the board approves a plan and families are surveyed. That timeline would allow time for division staff to process the forms, group students by the preferred instructional model and plan for bus routes.
In the meantime, Powell is working with building administrations on a COVID-19 operations prep checklist to ensure the buildings are ready when or if in-person classes begin. So far, the division has been able to implement the five mitigation strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include a mask requirement, social distancing, hand hygiene, new cleaning protocols, and cleaning high-touch areas.
Board members asked about plans to bring back students with the most needs for in-person classes.
“I know it’s not perfect, but I think as we move forward and see what the committee is recommending, we will try to get the students who have disabilities, but there’s no set plan for it,” said Beth Baptist, who is heading the committee. “But we do want the students who need us the most to get back to us as quickly as possible.”