City's schools lose more students

Bigger-than-expected decline could mean budget, personnel cuts

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Enrollment in the Pittsburgh Public Schools dropped about 5.5 percent in the past 12 months, with some families continuing to leave the district for charter and private schools despite Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's work toward academic revitalization.

Some schools now face budget cuts because of lower-than-anticipated enrollment, with midyear personnel cuts and merging of classes among the possibilities that concern building administrators.

The district's "official membership" Sept. 28 was 29,445, down 1,703 from the count taken Sept. 30, 2005. Officials had projected a loss of 862 students, a 2.8 percent drop.

Enrollment was below projections at all eight of the accelerated learning academies that Mr. Roosevelt opened Aug. 21 to boost student achievement. Enrollment also was off at most of the new expanded elementary schools that he has called important to his turnaround plan.

This was at least the eighth annual enrollment drop for the district, which had 39,603 students in 1998. At least in part, the 1,700-student drop likely reflects a continuing movement of families to suburban and charter schools.

Some reconfiguring of school-based budgets occurs each year after release of enrollment figures, but the amount of change this year is unusual, budget director Pete Camarda said. He referred questions about personnel cuts to other district officials, who did not provide information yesterday.

After closing 22 elementary and middle schools, the school district last summer laid off 82 teachers and other professional employees. Most have been called back to work.

Enrollment was 12 percent lower than projected at the accelerated learning academies, new schools with a longer day, extended year and special programs that some parents had criticized. About 4,190 students were assigned to the schools, and 3,695 were enrolled Sept. 28.

The Arlington academy had 472 students, 87 fewer than projected; Colfax had 611, 52 fewer than projected; Fort Pitt had 415, 77 fewer than projected; and Murray had 457, 82 fewer than projected.

The Northview academy had 422, 39 fewer than projected; Weil had 354, 45 fewer than projected; King had 644, 98 fewer than projected; and Rooney had 320, 16 fewer than projected.

Lisa Fischetti, district chief of staff, and Richard R. Fellers, chief operations officer, said empty seats at the academies and other schools could be more a sign of faulty enrollment projections than parental dissatisfaction.

Weil Principal Carolyn Davis and Fort Pitt Principal Verna Arnold, who each face budget cuts of more than $200,000, said declining occupancy of public housing communities near their schools might have affected enrollment.

But some parents said they removed children because they didn't like Mr. Roosevelt's initiatives or the state of city schools.

North Side resident Patrice Lesesne said her son, Keenan Brown, started the school year at Rooney but left after a few weeks for Career Connections Charter Middle School in Lawrenceville. She said Keenan moved, in part, because of what she called discipline problems at Rooney.

"He was also very bored," Ms. Lesesne said. "My son is a gifted student, and the work he was receiving -- he told me himself -- was not challenging enough."

Some parents also expressed concern about the elimination of some middle schools and expansion of elementary schools to take in sixth, seventh and eighth grades -- moves that Mr. Roosevelt said would promote improved discipline and achievement.

As of Sept. 28, enrollment was 7 percent below projections at the 10 new K-8 schools. About 4,876 had been assigned to the schools, and 4,532 were enrolled. The greatest disparity was at Lincoln Elementary, which had 631 students, 84 fewer than projected.

Rosalyn Holmes, a parent who unsuccessfully opposed school consolidation in the East End last school year, said some displeased residents enrolled children in neighboring school districts. Woodland Hills spokeswoman Maria McCool said that district received 142 new students from Pittsburgh schools for 2006-07.

Some Catholic and charter schools also reported receiving new students from Pittsburgh schools, including some from neighborhoods most affected by Mr. Roosevelt's school reorganization.

Northside Urban Pathways, a Downtown charter school with grades six through 12, last school year enrolled 18 students who otherwise would have attended Columbus, Rooney and Reizenstein middle schools.

This school year, it has 58, chief executive officer Linda Clautti said. Rooney was turned into an academy; Columbus and Reizenstein were closed and their students assigned to other schools.

The new Career Connections Charter Middle School enrolled 75 sixth- and seventh-graders, drawing some from the school district's Arsenal Middle School. Arsenal had 490 students as of Sept. 28, 69 below projections.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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