Chico Unified School District officials got an unwelcome surprise at the start of the school year this week.
Student enrollment is down significantly, and that could have an unwanted fiscal impact.
When the school year began Monday, 140 fewer students were enrolled in Chico schools compared to August 2012. That’s a drop of more than one percent from the 12,000 students of a year ago.
Assistant Superintendent Dave Scott informed the school board of the decrease at Tuesday night's meeting. He holds out hope that there's a good explanation.
“In some cases, they may still be on vacation,” said Scottt. “In other cases, they may have moved and gone elsewhere. It's surprising to us, it is a significant amount.”
Enrollment and attendance are the lifeblood of the school district, which receives approximately $5,000 per student from the state and federal governments. A loss of 140 students means a loss of $700,000 to the district.
Scott added “Families have a lot of choices when it comes to education in Chico.”
The choices include homeschooling, charter schools and private schools.
Notre Dame is among the private schools in Chico. Notre Dame principal Terri Sobieralski said the school saw a 10 percent increase from last year's enrollment. She said there are many reasons parents choose Notre Dame over public schools.
“Well, probably the most obvious reason, we're a Catholic school,” said Sobieralski. “So we not only welcome Jesus into our classrooms, we invite him. And having that presence changes the whole environment.”
But private schooling can be cost-prohibitive, charging thousands of dollars in tuition. Many parents like Latta Coalenghi like the education that Chico Unified schools are providing students.
“She comes home, and everything I ask her, she learns something news and she's excited about it,” said Coalenghi.
While the numbers are in, there are still questions that need to be answered. Where are these 140 students attending school and why not with Chico Unified? The answers to those questions are expected at next month's school board meeting.
The district will make calls from now until Labor Day to parents, trying to learn why their children are not attending their schools.