Tucson school district must cut $4.5 million due to declining enrollment

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
TUCSON, AZ (AP) -

The Tucson Unified School District must make a mid-year $4.5 million budget cut after more than 880 students projected to attend the district's schools this year decided to go elsewhere.

The $4.5 million figure is a conservative estimate and that officials expect it to grow to more than $6 million if current enrollment trends continue through the end of the year, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

[RELATED: Arizona teachers demand pay raises, better working conditions amid shortages]

In the past, schools received funding based on the previous year's enrollment numbers, and they could budget for any enrollment drops ahead of time in the next year's budget.

But state lawmakers in 2015 changed the law and started paying schools based on their current-year enrollment numbers, forcing schools with declining enrollment to make mid-year budget revisions.

Tucson Unified School District officials hope to keep the cuts from affecting classrooms and to stem the tide of students out of the district in time to mitigate the need for more dramatic, painful cuts this year.

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But district Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo says if the district can't find a way to attract and retain more students, layoffs could be on the horizon next year.

For now, at least, Trujillo said he hopes to stick to cuts that don't involve any layoffs. The district will look to cost savings like leaving open vacant and soon-to-be vacant positions, eliminating luxuries such as travel budgets and reducing less luxurious items such as supplies.

Stopping the exodus from Tucson Unified School District will be a tall order. The district's enrollment has been on a downward trajectory for decades.

In 2008, the district taught more than 56,000 students, but the latest numbers show just 44,029 students.

[RELATED: Report: Arizona charter schools widely abuse public funding]

Trujillo said the largest chunk of departing students came from six schools that lost their magnet status this year after the schools failed to meet diversity goals outlined in the district's decades-old desegregation case.

Besides losing funding for specialty programs like communications and fine arts, the schools lost their enrollment extended boundaries, and transportation options for students beyond those neighborhood boundaries, making it harder for students to attend.

Tracking where, exactly, students go after leaving the district has proven difficult, Trujillo said.

But one thing is for sure: The increased competition from charters is siphoning students away.

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