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More than 1,300 fewer students are coming to San Diego Unified and its charter schools than the school district had expected, which will mean less state money pouring into the system.

The school district had actually expected enrollment to jump this year from more than 132,800 to 133,350 students. Instead, it fell to 132,000 — a 0.6 percent drop. District officials say the reasons are still unclear.

“What we need to do is get under the hood and see, ‘where did we decline?’” said Roy MacPhail, director of Instructional Facilities Planning. MacPhail, who is still analyzing the data, said there were no strong signs that specific grades had dropped in enrollment.

The school district cites the economy as a factor in the slight decrease, but earlier the district had projected that the economy would boost their numbers by pushing children out of private schools and into the public school system. It’s not because of test scores, whichrose significantly this year.

“San Diego Unified schools remain the best educational choice for San Diego families as demonstrated by the continued improvement in our test scores and other student achievement measures,” Interim Superintendent Bill Kowba stated in a press release. “Maintaining that educational quality will help us retain and attract more students in the years ahead.”

All told, 865 fewer kids are coming to San Diego Unified schools compared to last year. Charter schools actually saw an increase, with 151 more students going to charter schools.

The falling numbers could pose a budget problem. School districts in California get some of their money based on how many students they enroll. They also make key spending decisions, such as how many teachers they need, based on those numbers. If the school district used numbers that were too rosy, it could have overstaffed its schools and planned for more revenue than it will actually get.

MacPhail said San Diego Unified usually budgets and staffs its schools based on a low prediction as a “bit of a buffer.” I’m checking with spokesman Jack Brandais about whether the lower-than-expected enrollment will have a financial impact, or whether that buffer was low enough to keep the budget in the clear. Check back for more information as soon as I get it.

EMILY ALPERT

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