Pittsburgh city schools' enrollment still falling

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If the projections of Pittsburgh Public Schools had been right, the district this fall would have turned the corner on declining K-12 enrollment and would have seen the growth of 100 students.

But the district saw another K-12 decline this fall, this time a drop of 1.3 percent, or 324 students fewer than last fall.

That makes the official fall K-12 enrollment figure 24,525 this fall, compared to 24,849 last fall.

"I would say it's disappointing to see a reduction," said school superintendent Linda Lane.

Ms. Lane noted many factors contribute to enrollment, ranging from birth rates to enrollment in charter schools.

Enrollment of city residents in charter schools continued its long-term trend of increasing, this time by 307 students, or 9.5 percent, to 3,551 at 20 charter and cyber charter schools.

The district also reported its K-12 racial makeup as 53.76 percent black, 33.67 percent white, 6.76 percent multiracial, 3.55 percent Asian, 2.06 percent Hispanic, 0.17 percent American Indian and 0.04 percent Pacific Islander.

In addition to the K-12 drop, the number of children enrolled in early childhood programs in the district dropped by 14.4 percent, from 1,614 last fall to 1,381 this fall.

The early childhood decrease reflects reduced state and federal funding. There is more demand for that space for early childhood programs.

When preK enrollment is added to K-12 enrollment, the total city school enrollment is 25,906, a decrease of 557 students, or 2.1 percent.

The cumulative effect of the declines is a loss of 2,124 students, or 8.6 percent, since fall 2008.

Ms. Lane said district officials are looking at what the numbers mean in each school but haven't reached conclusions yet.

This fall marks one year after the district made changes affecting thousands of students, including closing seven schools, opening one school, changing some school assignments for teachers and students, laying off teachers and increasing class size.

Most of the decline -- 260 students -- came in grades 9-12.

The largest numerical drop was at Pittsburgh Perry High School on the North Side. With 789 students, the school has 162 fewer than the prior year, a 17 percent decline

The next largest decline in schools with high school grades was at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12, which has 499 students, 71 fewer than last fall, a decline of 12.5 percent.

Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12, also known as University Prep, also had a double-digit percentage decline. Its enrollment of 519 is 65 below last fall, a decrease of 11 percent.

This fall's enrollment figures are particularly important because they come as district officials and consultants put the finishing touches on an envisioning plan expected to be released next month.

Ms. Lane repeatedly has said elementary school closings will be proposed and has expressed concerns about the inefficiencies of small schools, not just operating expenses but also capital expenses as roofs leak or other repairs become necessary.

Not counting special schools and the Online Academy, the smallest school in the district is Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5 in Lawrenceville with 110 students, 65 fewer than the prior fall, a drop of 37 percent.

Woolslair is located about a half mile from Pittsburgh Arsenal PreK-5, which opened in fall 2006 in a building that also houses a middle school. Arsenal has 287 students in K-5, 16 more than the prior fall, an increase of 6 percent.

Some schools saw growth in K-12 enrollment, including Pittsburgh Whittier K-5, Mount Washington, which at 268 gained 27 students or 11.2 percent; Colfax K-8, which at 781 gained 74 students or 10.5 percent; Westwood, which at 255 gained 20 students or 8.5 percent; and Brookline PreK-8, which at 600 gained 46 students or 8.3 percent.

Ms. Lane said increases can reflect the number of students assigned to a school and how parents feel about the school.

"I think parent perception is enormous" she said. "The fact of the matter is Brookline has been basically overcapacity for a while now. ... There's a strong parent perception about Brookline which is great."

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published October 28, 2013 1:16 PM

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