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YOUNGSTOWN SCHOOLS Enrollment woes plague district

By Bob Roth

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Enrollment has nose-dived by more than 2,000 since charter schools opened three years ago.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The number of pupils in the city's public schools fell by 429 this year, mostly because of the continuing drain of charter schools, district officials said.
The system's official October enrollment count of 10,202 is 4 percent less than the 10,631 last year, according to district records.
It is the district's 11th consecutive annual decline in enrollment, which has steadily declined 32 percent from 15,072 pupils in 1990.
Forecast: Superintendent Ben McGee said the district projects that enrollment will continue falling for the next two or three years and then stabilize at about 9,600 unless another large charter school opens in the city.
Charter schools are privately operated, publicly funded schools approved by state lawmakers in 1997 to give parents more educational choice. Parents do not pay tuition.
In 1998, Youngstown's first two charter schools opened: Eagle Heights Academy and Youngstown Community School. Since then, three more charter schools have opened and the public school district has lost 2,091 pupils, records show.
Eagle Heights and Youngstown Community School, which draw most of their pupils from the city public schools, plan to continue to grow.
Eagle Heights enrolls about 988 pupils in grades kindergarten through ninth and will add grades 10, 11 and 12 over the next three years, pushing enrollment well beyond 1,000.
YCS, with 192 pupils in kindergarten through third grade, plans to add fourth, fifth and sixth grade over the next three years for a total enrollment of 336.
In September, Summit Academy-Youngstown opened with 83 pupils; and Legacy Academy opened this week on the city's South Side with about 225 pupils.
Kindergarten: McGee said the charter schools have dug deep into the public schools' kindergarten population, which dropped 17 percent from 882 last year to 735 this year.
Enrollment numbers released by the district also show a big drop at The Rayen School on the North Side, from 935 pupils last year to 826 this year.
McGee said he suspects a miscount at the school. "We're going to go back and re-look at that," he said.
Rayen Principal Claude Bentley said the school has lost scores of pupils to the charter schools and other alternative programs.
"They are giving us a beating," he said. He also said, however, that having fewer pupils has improved the school's climate. "We don't have as many disruptions," he said.
While Rayen lost more than 100 pupils, Chaney High School's enrollment fell by only three to 909 and Woodrow Wilson High School's numbers jumped from 872 to 897.
Loss in funding: Treasurer Carolyn Funk said she has not calculated how much state funding the district could lose because of fewer pupils. "It's not going to be nice," she said. "I'm not happy about losing that many kids."
McGee said the enrollment drops should not affect the district's $163.5 million facilities plan, which voters approved a year ago. He said the district projected losing pupils when it put together the plan and included the possibility of two additional charter schools in the projections.
"We didn't want to be naive in terms of what could possibly happen," he said.
The plan calls for building a new high school, three new elementary schools and major renovations to a dozen other buildings.