Enrollment figures posted this month by the St. Paul Public Schools show that the number of students who generate state funding dropped from 37,605 in October 2015 to 37,042 in October 2016.
That is the biggest yearly decline in the three years since former Superintendent Valeria Silva launched her Strong Schools, Strong Communities district reorganization plan.
Silva hoped the shift in emphasis from districtwide magnets to neighborhood schools, plus other changes, would boost enrollment by 3,000 students. But a year-to-year review shows that the number of kids who produce revenue increased just once, during the 2014-15 school year, and then by only 19 students.
She was not alone in her optimism.
About two years ago, the district contracted with Hazel Reinhardt, a former state demographer, to project enrollment as part of a long-term facilities plan. Reinhardt's forecast was for slow, steady growth beginning in 2014-15, and the opposite has occurred.
Expect to see increased attention to district enrollment in the coming months.
The district's Department of Research, Evaluation and Assessment is crunching numbers in anticipation of a potentially harsh 2017-18 budget season.
Board Member Steve Marchese, who raised questions last spring about the fate of community schools in an era of increased school-choice competition, said he expects the board and a new superintendent to give parts of Strong Schools, Strong Communities a fresh look.
How that comes about remains to be seen. In the meantime, Marchese said, the district will seek to build faith and confidence in its offerings.
"My hope is we continue to improve the perception of our schools and the experience of our students in those schools," he said.