Waynesboro schools are facing a major problem and hoping it's not the start of a trend. A large number of students have dropped out since the start of the school year, leaving school leaders to slash thousands of dollars this fiscal year.
Each year, schools leaders create a budget based on incoming funds that includes state funding based on enrollment estimates. But since the summer, 75 students have left the school system, meaning a huge chunk of change that leaders were banking on will disappear.
"You always expect some variation in enrollment; enrollment is not a stagnant number but to have a loss of 75 students over basically the summer is a very significant loss. And the accompanying significant loss of funds is very frustrating and very difficult to deal with," said Dr. Jeffrey Cassell, superintendent of Waynesboro schools.
Tuesday, Waynesboro school leaders put their heads together to deal with some tough choices. The budget they had was based on 3,074 students. At last count, that number dwindled to 2,998.
"The amount per pupil that we receive from the state would be probably around $4,800 a year," Cassell said.
Based on those estimates, that could mean a funding shortfall of almost $365,000.
"There's no one place where we'll be able to find that amount of money. It'll just be a combination of identifying savings any place that we can," Cassell said.
Cassell intends to put maintenance projects on hold, hope for a mild winter to cut utilities, and not fill job openings as they occur.
"We don't want our students to suffer. We don't want the educational services that we provide to take a hit," said Linda Jones, Waynesboro School Board member.
The state will fund based on the final enrollment count come March, but Jones is still worried.
"Nobody wants to have to make cuts. It's not a good thing. We've been cutting and cutting, cutting out of our budget. And we're hoping to do this in a manner that affects the division the least possible way," Jones said.
For now, teachers will keep their jobs and students won't see big changes. Cassell hopes it doesn't get worse.
"The other part that causes me some anxiety is trying to determine whether this is a trend that is going to continue or not," Cassell said.
Because the students who left came from all different grades and schools, leaders say there's no simple solution. Moving forward, they'll monitor monthly spending very closely, but if enrollment does not go up or continues to decrease, leaders will have to make more long-term budget cuts.