The Robbinsdale School District is working harder to sell itself.

Concerned about enrollment declines and the loss of students to private schools, charter schools and other districts via the open-enrollment route, the district has devised a marketing plan.

But district officials still don't plan to advertise, as some other districts have done, or try to lure students from other districts.

"Part of that is our philosophy that using taxpayer dollars to market to other areas just doesn't seem like the right use of those funds," said district spokesman Jeff Dehler, who also manages the district's nascent public relations campaign.

The nearby Minnetonka School District, for example, advertises in print and on public television and nets hundreds more students than it loses to open enrollment.

What Robbinsdale is doing is ramping up its communications effort to students and parents living within the district. Resident students and parents earlier this school year, for instance, got postcards and brochures from both of the district high schools -- Armstrong in Plymouth and Cooper in New Hope -- about parent preview nights for eighth-graders, held in mid-November. Those mailings were followed up with reminders sent via voice mail or e-mail.

"What we had done before was just a very simple letter from the principals," Dehler said.

The same drill will be used with middle schools, which will hold open houses in January, and for kindergarten registration night in March.

Dehler said one concern is that parents in the district don't know enough about district options. Those include a Spanish immersion program as well as rigorous International Baccalaureate programs at Cooper High, Robbinsdale Middle School and Lakeview Elementary in Robbins- dale, and advanced placement programs at Armstrong High and pre-advanced placement programs at Plymouth Middle School.

According to Dehler, district residents hear plenty about other non-district schools. One co-worker, for instance, recently got a flier in the mail from the private Providence Academy in Plymouth.

"I've gotten fliers that have come to my house from Beacon Academy, a charter school [in Maple Grove], and a lot of online high school options," Dehler said. "So as people's awareness of their options is increasing, we need to respond to that and make sure people are aware of the options available to them right here in their back yard."

Loss of enrollment is a concern to school districts because state education aid is allocated on a per-pupil basis; fewer students means less state aid.

Last year, Robbinsdale reported one of its biggest enrollment declines in a decade, totaling 477 students. At $5,174 in basic state aid per pupil, that equals a loss of at least $2.5 million in state funding. That was a major factor contributing to the closing of two elementary schools and a middle school at the end of the 2008-09 school year.

The district recently reported a loss of 567 students this year. Projections further into the future show enrollment levelling off.

For the most part, district officials said, those losses have been the result of fewer births and an aging population. But the district also is losing students to other schools.

District figures showed 621 students attending charter schools last year, and another 1,345 attending private schools. In terms of open enrollment -- which allows students to attend schools in districts other than the ones in which they live -- the district is a net loser, but only slightly: District figures showed 1,238 students going to other districts last year and 1,196 students coming in from other districts.

Dehler said the district loses the most open enrollment students to the Hopkins (306), Wayzata (281), Osseo (215) and Minneapolis (192) districts, and gains the most from Minneapolis (714) and Osseo (365).

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547