Gilbert Public Schools will need funding grant after severe enrollment losses

Gilbert Public Schools
Gilbert Public Schools has lost about 900 students in enrollment this year. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools has lost about 900 students in enrollment this year. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools will seek a $30 million federal enrollment stabilization grant to recover some of its funding losses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

The district has lost about 900 students in enrollment, more than double the 400 it projected during the budget process, Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said.

Along with the loss of enrollment, the district has seen a major shift from students who plan to attend in person once offered and those who are doing online schooling this year, which the state’s funding formula compensates at a lower rate. About 33,000 attended disttrict schools in person last year and 134 in Gilbert Global Academy, the district's online school. This year, it's about 27,000 students choosing in-person learning and 5,600 for Gilbert Global Academy.

The state uses a weighted funding formula that uses "average daily membership"—the total enrollment of fractional and full-time students, minus withdrawals, of each school day through the first 100 days in session—as the basis for the funding. ADM roughly equates to enrollment, but online students would be among the "fractional" students in the formula.

Furthermore, the district anticipates losing revenue of $1.9 million from food services, $2.2 million from community education and another $1 million in student fees, Betz said.

In all, the district expects it will have to trim about $2.5 million from the $258.7 million maintenance and operations budget it approved in June, though Gov. Doug Ducey promised school districts they will be funded at least 98% of fiscal year 2019-20 state funding if they meet certain conditions, and the enrollment stabilization grant is the mechanism that would be used to get the district to the 98% mark.

The financial picture came at the end of the Sept. 1 governing board work-study session, which looked at the return-to-school benchmarks and protocols put in place for safety from the coronavirus.

Superintendent Shane McCord reviewed the state’s health benchmarks for Maricopa County and the county’s benchmarks for Gilbert Public Schools, which showed the district is still on track for a return to hybrid learning. That would allow students to return to campus part-time starting Sept. 8.

The district continues to project a Sept. 21 return to full on-campus in-person instruction for those who choose that model.

Additionally, principals from Ashland Ranch Elementary School, Greenfield Junior High School and Campo Verde High School explained how protocols will work at their schools, from hallway traffic flow and staggered release times during passing periods to cafeteria lunch lines and playground cleaning.

Betz also said the U.S. Department of Agriculture had extended the free lunch program until Dec. 31, meaning all students will be eligible to be fed meals through the district for the remainder of the calendar year.

The board also reviewed information from the health office, transportation and communication.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.