CASA GRANDE — Casa Grande elementary schools have seen an even sharper decline in enrollment than administrators had predicted.

At Tuesday’s Casa Grande Elementary School District Governing Board meeting, district officials reported about 170 fewer students are currently attending than last year. Chief Financial Officer Tom Wohlleber said the administration had expected to see a decline of only about 70 students.

Wohlleber said the number is based on the district’s Average Daily Membership, the number the state uses in determining the amount of money the district will receive from the state budget. Unfortunately, fewer students equals less money, which Wohlleber said was to the tune of about $642,000 currently.

The state recently changed the way districts receive money, with the funds coming in based on a projected number of students for the 40th school day. A full reconciliation will be done in the spring after the state calculates the actual number of students in the district at the 100th day of school. Previously, the state used actual numbers for the previous year.

For now, Wohlleber said, the district has been able to shift funds from other designations to be able to cover the difference. For example, he said, the district has requested a one-month “holiday” from paying into the Benefits Trust Fund, which will allow the district to use that money now. He warned, however, that money will have to be repaid next year.

Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales told PinalCentral the district’s demographer suggested planning for a declining enrollment of up to 150 students.

“In looking at enrollment trends that were occurring in the spring of last year that were slightly rising, yet knowing we would likely be looking at a smaller kindergarten class, we decided to plan for a loss of about 70,” Gonzales said.

She said the decline in enrollment is attributable to several factors, but that low birthrate remains the main culprit.

“The reality is, our student count in the upper grades (six to eight) is much higher than it is in the lower grades. [O]ur kindergarten enrollment is about 200 students less than the students that matriculated to high school last year, and they stand at about 140 students less than our current eighth-grade class,” Gonzales said.

In action items, the board approved an agreement with the district and Arizona@Work to place part-time employees in the district. Brenda Tijerina, director of talent acquisition (formerly known as human resources), said the partnership will allow the district to hire part-time staff through the state and county agency at $12 per hour. The part-time staff or interns will be enrolled in a GED program and will be capped at 25 hours per week in order to allow the students time to study and take classes.

Board member David Snider hailed the agreement as a way for the district to get people who are interested in careers in education in the door.

Tijerina said Arizona@Work has several individuals signed up who are interested in careers in education and are ready to hit the ground running. The district will interview and vet the candidates as they would any other applicant.

The district unveiled a new award for employees, the #BeKind award. It was explained the district previously only had one recognition time for staff annually and administrators wanted another way to recognize staff for their work throughout the year. The inaugural recipient of the award was Andrew Johnson, a third-grade teacher at Cholla Elementary School, whom Gonzales said could often be found eating lunch and playing alongside his class.

Board members Snider and Gilberto Mendez also were sworn into office for a new term.