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Off enrollment numbers at Seattle area schools lead to shifting teachers; budget shortfall

SEATTLE - Some school districts have been caught by surprise over how low their actual enrollment numbers are compared to what was projected for this year.

Districts like Seattle Public Schools and others are shifting teachers from one school to another to meet the demand where it is needed.

But that has left some frustrated parents and students.

Rachel Rourke says the start of the school year for her 14-year-old daughter has been rough.

“I mean it's ridiculous my kid did 3 weeks of algebra and was super pumped about it and then came home and doesn't have algebra class now,” Rourke said.

Rourke says her daughter's favorite teacher at Nova, an alternative high school, unexpectedly got moved to another school. She says it's a result of the surprisingly low enrollment compared to what the district projected for this year.

School districts predict enrollment and many times it’s not an exact science. So it’s not unusual to have a hundred fewer students but more than 700 is far off.

Seattle Public Schools saw 724 less students in September than projected.

“Not sure where they get that number,” Rourke said.

SPS did not make the time to go on camera but they shared how enrollment numbers are calculated.

There is no set universal formula but experts will weigh a number of things including birth data, housing information to major employers. But that still doesn't explain why the numbers are so off this year.

Highline Public Schools is also dealing with a similar situation.

At the start of the school year, Highline Public Schools had 716 fewer students show up.

“We have a demographer working on that right now he does our projections every year, usually he is very close we are not the only ones in the region in the area that is down,” Jacqueline Bryan of Highline Public Schools said.

Bryan says one hypothesis their demographer is looking at is the rising cost of living.

“One thing we noticed this year is that our elementary numbers were down more significantly than secondary that is something we were not expecting,” Bryan said.

They don't know why that is at this time but what we do know is that enrollment numbers are important. They determine how much money each district gets from the state and whether or not they can balance their budget.

“We have to stay within our means this year and keep a really close eye on our budget,” Bryan said.

If they can do that, the district doesn't anticipate any layoffs or program cuts.

As for Seattle Public Schools, their budget shortfall is more than double that of Highline's at $7.5 million a year. That's why the district is shifting teachers around to meet the demand in the classrooms that need it the most.

SPS says there are no plans for teacher layoffs.

Rourke hopes predictions for future years will be better.

"It needs to be known before the start of school who is going where they shouldn't take away teachers that already started teaching classes,” Rourke said.

Highline Public Schools says many more students have enrolled since the beginning of the school year and they expect the numbers to be a lot lower than 716. With 716 fewer students Highline was going to lose about $3.5 million a year from the state but with more kids enrolling that number is expected to go down.

The districts say they will have the final tally next week.