Plano ISD officials weigh budgetary options after 2018-19 student enrollment comes in lower than expected

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When Plano ISD budgets for each upcoming school year, the process is informed by an array of informed estimates: How many students are going to return from last year? How large is the incoming kindergarten class? How do enrollment numbers affect the funding the district receives from the state?

When those estimates are incorrect, it can throw the budget off by millions of dollars, as was the case this school year when hundreds fewer students enrolled in Plano ISD schools than district staff had expected.

Demographic studies suggested the district could expect 188 fewer students to enroll this year than in 2017-18, a continuation of an ongoing trend in which the kindergarten classes coming in are smaller than graduating classes going out. However, the actual decline was four-and-a-half times as large, according to a district report presented in October to trustees.

Overall, the district was 662 students below the projected numbers for the 2018-19 school year. Enrollment was lower than expected at all but one grade level. Because the state’s payments to PISD are partly based on average daily attendance, the district is also having internal discussions about the $3 million budget shortfall that is expected to result.

“It’s probably going to affect future budgets more than the current year budget,” said Randy McDowell, the district’s chief financial officer. “I would say [there will be]little impact on the current year budget or staffing.”

The district does not yet know the full demographic breakdown of the students who did not enroll, nor a reason for why the projections were higher than the actual results. As of this paper’s print deadline, McDowell said the district was preparing a more detailed snapshot report to send to its demographer for further analysis.

That analysis is expected to be completed and made available to trustees sometime in the spring, McDowell said.

In the meantime, the district is discussing how to deal with a shortfall in expected revenue from the state of Texas.

Birth rates and expectations

PISD trustees first reviewed the unexpectedly large enrollment decline at a public meeting in October.

At the time, the district was reviewing numbers from earlier that month. More up-to-date numbers would not be available, McDowell said, until later in the school year.

“We do hope that we continue to grow [in enrollment]from Oct. 5 through the end of the month,” McDowell told trustees at the time. “We will not make up 662 students, unless the people at this table have heard of some major influx of student enrollment that I have not heard about.”

The change was driven in large part by the incoming kindergarten class being 3.5 percent below the projected levels, even as a larger 12th-grade class had just graduated in the fall. Incoming kindergarten classes are particularly difficult to estimate, McDowell said, because the best information districts have to go off of is the number of births in the area five years earlier.

The district had actually anticipated a slightly larger kindergarten class this year than it had in 2017-18, due to an increase in the number of births in 2013, district records show.

“As the demographer does try to project incoming kindergarteners, [births are]really the best way that we have to try to project that,” McDowell said.

Over the next two years, the district is preparing for a slightly larger influx of students based on higher birth rates demographers tracked in 2014 and 2015. But the lower-than-expected enrollment this year could adjust the district’s expectations going forward, McDowell said.

Dealing with a shortfall

The October report attracted the attention of trustees, several of whom asked how the demographer’s numbers could be so far off the mark.

“When you look at the numbers—662 [and]850—that’s a school,” trustee Yoram Solomon said at the meeting. “That’s an elementary school. We have a spare elementary school, essentially. We need to get to the bottom of understanding why the projections—I mean, the biggest part of it is the projections being off by 1.3 percent.”

School board President Missy Bender pointed out that the numbers provided by the demographer were within the range of accuracy that they aim for, but that the numbers have produced issues for the district all the same.

“They tell you they try to be within about 1 or 2 percent [of total student enrollment], and they are,” Bender said. “It’s just that every year, we’re ticking down, … so cumulatively, it adds up over time.”

This year, McDowell said, the district has several methods of addressing the roughly $3 million budget shortfall. However, the district is probably not looking at having to shrink staff size at schools mid-year, he said.

“Here in the middle of the year, if all departments have to cut their budgets or campuses have to cut their budgets, that’s probably pretty drastic in the grand scheme,” McDowell said.

Instead, the administration plans to monitor opportunities for cost-savings in contracts, and can lean on other budgetary options, such as savings from vacancies that emerge throughout the year. The district also has other budgetary options that can help close the $3 million gap.

“That’s why we have fund balance too, to kind of offset the ups and downs,” McDowell said.

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  1. I live in N. Richardson, but in PISD. When looking at the public schools in the area before my son went to kindergarten, we were disappointed to learn that PISD goes out of their way to avoid promoting diversity at younger grades. While other ISD’s in the metroplex and in the state, have recognized the importance of linguistic diversity through dual-language learning, PISD pushes its students in bilingual programs to move students to English only instruction as soon as possible. While our neighborhood elementary school receives high marks by the state, we decided to pursue alternative options. Fortunately, a public charter school that not only provided dual language opportunities, but a tri-lingual curriculum, was being opened in nearby N. Garland. My now 5th grader is in his 6th year at this exceptional school, and not only has he met mastery level on STAAR tests in English, but he reads/writes/speaks Spanish at above his grade level, and speaks conversational Mandarin. Additionally, because of the curriculum, the diversity in demographics provide my son with the opportunity to interact with students and teachers from a variety of countries. Finally, if he continues to attend ILTexas, he will graduate with at most 160
    students. The small class size in HS allows him to really get to know his classmates and teachers instead of being just another student. All this being said, PlanoISD has peaked our interest with the new STEAM Academy HS. I think that PlanoISD could help itself stand out by recognizing the importance of magnet style programs including dual language.

    • @Diana Diaz,

      Please contact me via email at VoteRafaty@Gmail.com. I’d like to hear/learn more from this experience and what suggestions you may have to increase diversity and dual-language offerings.

      Thanks – Dylan Rafaty

  2. Brian E Briars

    I think the PISD is missing it!

    I look at the data and see the study missed about 120 kindergarten students. No big deal – perhaps splitting the annual births by quarters could tell how many will start school in which year.

    What they miss, however, is 606 pupils from 1st-2nd-3rd grade DID NOT RETURN for 2nd-3rd-4th grade, respectively! The real question is WHY – either they moved out (not likely) or they went to alternate education (most likely)!

    Going to private/alternate education systems is the FAILURE of the PISD. This is their responsibility to provide the atmosphere, curriculum, morale, and safety for the students. Diana (see other comment) pulled her child for bi- and tri-lingual education several years ago. I’m sure there are 606 other reasons why parents pulled their child from the PISD this year; and until those are found, “good school scores” will not become “great school scores”.

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Daniel Houston
Daniel Houston covers Plano city government, transportation, business and education for Community Impact Newspaper. A Fort Worth native and Baylor University graduate, Daniel reported previously for The Dallas Morning News and The Associated Press in Oklahoma City.
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