The St. Paul School District is projecting an increase in the number of students who fall into the all-important category of those who generate state funding.
The bump is small — just 88 students in a district that totals 37,128 — and may be a one-time occurrence. But the development, if confirmed by the state, is an unexpected turn for a district that has seen enrollment declines hurt the bottom line in recent years.
"We're excited that more families are choosing St. Paul Public Schools," Superintendent Joe Gothard said.
The enrollment report presented to the school board on Tuesday was a mixed bag in other ways, however.
Take preschoolers out of the revenue-producing mix, and the district's student count from kindergarten through 12th grade is down from a year ago, said Stacey Gray Akyea, the district's director of research, evaluation and assessment.
"Of course, any increase is good news," she said of the overall rise in revenue-producing students. "But that doesn't change the trend — that we may be returning to that small decline."
Last spring, the district projected enrollment losses at 41 of 59 school sites when the board worked to resolve a $27.3 million budget gap for 2017-18. A drop in enrollment also was a factor in a $15.1 million shortfall projected for 2016-17.
The district is projecting another shortfall for 2018-19, but it does not yet know how big it will be, said Toya Stewart Downey, a district spokeswoman.
On Tuesday, the board also approved a 5 percent increase in the district's tax levy for 2018 and a relaxing of rules governing graduation attire. The policy change will allow students to decorate their gowns in ways that celebrate their identity and ethnicity.
The idea was promoted by the SPPS Student Engagement and Advancement Board, and piloted successfully last spring by graduates at Humboldt and Creative Arts schools, a district administrator said. At that time, the so-called "identity adornments" — multicolored stoles hanging over gowns — had to be approved in advance, a practice that will continue as the move extends citywide.
Late Tuesday, the board also planned to meet in closed session to discuss a proposal to purchase the Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury. Earlier this year, the state moved to sell the building after legislators stripped the Perpich Center for Arts Education of its authority to run the school. The building has been appraised at $15.3 million.