It’s not as bad as they thought. After a year spent working to reverse declining enrollment in the Mesa Unified School District, school board members got a welcome message this week: The district gained some new students.
As of Thursday — the ninth day of the new school year — 74,194 students were enrolled in Mesa district schools, up some 228 students from last year, according to Joe O’Reilly, executive director for student achievement support.
Last year, the district lost nearly 700 children, and school officials originally had expected to lose several hundred more this fall because of neighborhood buildout and students transferring to charter schools.
Such losses bring a heavy cost. The more students attend public schools, the more money each school district receives from the state, with the average student bringing in roughly $6,000 in state funding.
The Mesa district is in the midst of adding academic programs to retain students, including revamping its alternative high schools. It also is planning to open an academy for high-performing students next year, and board members recently agreed to spend $50,000 to hire a public relations firm to fine-tune its image.
Much of this year’s growth came at the secondary level, with Skyline High School seeing a spurt of more than 100 new students, said Ken Salas, a district assistant superintendent.
The district’s distance learning programs also added new students, he said.
Any growth is good news, but it doesn’t mean the district can let its guard down yet, said governing board member Mike Hughes.
“It’s such a small number,” he said. “I think we’re still looking at about zero-growth. Hopefully, it shows kids wanting to come back to Mesa, but I don’t think we know yet. It’s still too soon to tell, in my opinion, exactly what the trend is.”