School board wrestles with budget impact of declining enrollment, student attendance drop

Chief Financial Officer Ruth Alahydoian presents the October budget update to the Board of Education on Oct. 11

In an effort to address the budget impacts of a projected decline in enrollment and a drop in student daily attendance numbers, PUSD is embarking on an effort to educate parents about the importance of daily attendance to the district’s bottom line and working on an appeal to encourage all Piedmont residents with school-age children to choose their local public schools over private education.

The fiscal impact of the enrollment dip was discussed at the Oct. 11 school board meeting, when Chief Financial Officer Ruth Alahydoian gave a budget update to the board that looked at how current enrollment, revenue, and expenditure patterns will play out over the next two years. The budget remains in flux due to ongoing salary and benefit negotiations with APT.

Census day for school districts is the first Wednesday in October. The enrollment numbers on that day are considered the official count for the school year, even though students come in and out of the district throughout the year. As of Oct. 4, 2023, the district’s total enrollment is 2,309. This is 35 fewer than 2022-23, and 21 fewer than PUSD’s estimate for 2023-24, per the school memo. Class sizes are expected to shrink over time — part of a state-wide enrollment decline.

PUSD daily attendance used to be around 97%, but more recently it’s running between 94% – 95% said Alahydoian on Wednesday night.

In her weekly message to the school community, PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hawn explained in detail how missing even one day of school affects the district’s finances.

You may not know this, but every time a student is absent, the school does not receive funding for that student for that school day. This includes absences for illness. Even though an absence due to illness is considered excused, the district receives no funding if a student is absent for any reason. Senate Bill 727 in 1999 determined that districts would no longer receive funding for students who were absent from school for any reason.

During the pandemic, the state suspended this requirement during distance learning and froze funding for school districts to the previous year. After schools reopened, districts experienced a loss of enrollment across California, and the State recognized this phenomena and funded districts based on their average attendance over the three years preceding the current year if that number exceeded their current and prior year attendance.

In the chart below, you can see the LCFF column, which reflects the loss per day of funding each time a student is absent for any reason. For example, if you have a 7th grade student who is absent for one day, the result is a loss of $58.06 for that day. You can imagine how this adds up quickly. For PUSD, our total loss of funds in 2022-23 due to absences totaled over $1M.

PUSD is in a difficult situation with our declining enrollment and 94% average daily attendance rate. One of my goals is to increase our enrollment, specifically toward enrolling every resident in our outstanding schools. However, daily attendance is also important. Let me be clear that we have no interest in seeing students who are ill attend school. If your child is ill, please do keep your child at home. However, if you are taking a vacation or any activity that may take your child out of school, please know that PUSD is losing funding for that day. Please consider scheduling vacations and activities during our calendared breaks. Imagine what we could do with the $1M we lost in daily attendance. Student attendance = school funding.

Superintendent message in Piedmont Pulse on Oct. 16

Efforts to bring more students into PUSD from Oakland via interdistrict transfer have not been as fruitful as the board had once hoped, primarily because OUSD is not accepting transfer requests, a situation that Hawn noted is unlikely to change. (In recent years the school board changed its enrollment policies in an effort to boost the diversity of the student body and to help offset the declining enrollment trend in the district.)

School Board member Cory Smegal encouraged parents to attend the monthly PUSD Budget Advisory Committee meetings that are open to Piedmont parents and community members who are interested in better understanding the budget for Piedmont’s public schools.

Superintendent’s Advisory Council

In her email to school families, the Superintendent said that the Superintendent Advisory Council plans to use surveys and focus groups to understand why some Piedmont families choose private education over local public schools, and is working on “marketing strategies” to keep families in the system. That includes looking at PUSD’s high school curriculum to ensure that it offers the right mix of course options to keep students engaged and examining how the PHS program compares to other comparable school districts.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *