District officials missed capturing $1.2 million in available state money for enrollment in interdistrict magnet schools this year.
The city’s 17 magnet schools will likely receive about $36 million of an available $37.2 million in state magnet funds, allocated on a per-pupil basis based on Oct. 1 enrollment numbers.
The funding gap could negatively impact the district’s overall revenue, according to a quarterly report released this week.
Despite the gap, the district did improve over past years’ performance. District leaders made a concerted effort to boost magnet school enrollment in the summer and fall, CFO Victor De La Paz said. The state does not give money for magnet school students who matriculate after Oct. 1.
“This is the first year we’ve really focused on tying interdistrict magnet school budgets to their enrollment ... giving them an opportunity to actively manage their waitlists and recruitment efforts,” he said.
Last year, the magnet school waitlists were mismanaged, leaving 193 seats unfilled by Oct. 1, 2014, De La Paz and Superintendent Garth Harries (pictured) told the Board of Alders during budget discussions this May. New Haven got a $35.5 million state magnet grant for 2014-15.
This year, by recent count, about 126 seats were left unfilled, with some schools doing much better than others, De La Paz said.
In May, parents and teachers at Engineering & Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) criticized the district for decreasing funding allocated to magnet schools in this fiscal year’s budget. At the same time, the district increased the discretionary funds of neighborhood schools. District officials said they were depending on the state grant to fill the gap.
ESUMS did see an increase in both enrollment and funding—with its number of total students jumping by 35 and its state grant by $284,740. Most of its enrollment increase was from suburban students; the number of New Haven students decreased by nine.
Some schools saw major decreases in total students and funding. High School in the Community’s enrollment dipped by 27 students—25 from New Haven and two from the suburbs—so its grant decreased by $89,170.
Moving The Waitlist
In the past, district leaders have not done a good job pulling students from the waitlist to fill those vacancies before Oct. 1 in order to maximize the amount of the state grant. Sherri Davis-Googe, the school district’s director of choice and enrollment, said this fall officials “streamlined” the way they moved the waitlist, contacting families every couple of weeks as seats became available.
With the help of truancy officers and school staff, they also closely tracked students with large numbers of consecutive absences, to figure out whether they had left the school. “If a school has 10 students who haven’t showed up from the first day of school, we would do the work of filling those seats,” Davis-Googe said.
That effort will continue throughout the year. Enrollment at interdistrict magnet schools “trickles down” during the school year, with fewer students counted in June 1 than October 1, De La Paz said. This year, the district is working harder to make sure their numbers stay stable and to “wherever possible, keep that enrollment equal to October 1st,” he said.
That task is more difficult than it seems, he said. The state caps enrolled New Haven students in all but four interdistrict magnet schools at around 75 percent, which is complex to track during the year. “The instinct is to just not rock the boat, to just not add kids and deal with it over the summer,” he said.
Some schools are already bumping up against that cap. For example, De La Paz said, West Rock Author’s Academy School “can hold another 50 kids but it’s already at its limit [of 75 percent] .... If I wanted to add one New Haven kid, I would have to add two suburban kids.”
The state also grants schools twice the amount for suburban students than for New Haven students. District leaders can backfill all empty seats with New Haven students after Oct. 1, “but if that means having zero suburban seats at the end of the year, it’s limiting the upside for how much money we can bring in” the following year, he said. “We have to be smart about how to manage enrollment at those schools.”
Joining a school late in the year can be difficult for students and parents. Elisabeth Kennedy’s daughter Emma applied to sixth grade at ESUMS in early spring 2014 and was placed second on the waitlist. Emma attended her local school in Hamden until she was notified in late September that she was off the waitlist.
“It’s great to have academic challenges but it’s really hard to pull your kid out of a place where they’re doing well,” Elisabeth Kennedy said of her daughter. But Emma was eager to attend a science-focused school. With less than 48 hours to decide whether she was going to accept the placement, she and her parents visited ESUMS again and shadowed some of the students.
The next day, she started school—after missing an entire month of classes. In Emma’s local public school, sixth grade was the end of elementary school; at ESUMS, it is the start of middle school. “Now she goes from one or two teachers to seven teachers changing classes seven times a week. She’s also suddenly placed into algebra…she’s taking engineering, all this stuff that’s really great. But she’s got serious homework. It was such a stark difference,” Elisabeth Kennedy said.
Despite the rough adjustment period, she did not regret helping her daughter pick ESUMS. “I wouldn’t have made any other choice.”
The shortfall in state magnet funds was not reflected in the quarterly budget forecast De La Paz released at Monday night’s meeting of the Board of Education’s Operations and Finance Committee. The document captured numbers from July through September.
Even without incorporating the gap in the magnet grant, the forecast predicts an operating budget deficit of $726,571 or .3 percent by the end of the fiscal year. The projection is “not concerning yet,” De La Paz said.
The forecast projects a $1.6 million deficit in full-time salaries compared to the budget, due in part to an increase of more than 50 full-time employees. De La Paz said that as state and federal grants “come online,” some of those staff members’ salaries will be shifted onto the grants and “off of the deficit forecast.”
Part-time payrolls are lower by $180,684 in the first month of school compared to last year, but season payrolls are higher than expected by $128,860. “We’re going to need a few more quarters of positive full-time and part-time payrolls,” De La Paz said.
State grants—including carryover funds—are expected to drop by just under $200,000, while federal funds are expected to stay flat.
De La Paz said there are a few ways to make up that deficit. More suburban students have enrolled in local schools through Open Choice—that increase from 170 to more than 200 this year will bring in money from the state. Suburban students’ districts pay New Haven for providing special education services in local magnet schools, also included in that increase.
The district is also allowed to take 3 percent of “indirect cost” on the amount it spends on federal grants. With grants including the Teacher Incentive Fund “fully ramped up” this year, New Haven should see increased returns, De La Paz said.