Enrollment numbers are at the crux of a dispute over Lilla Frederick Pilot School’s budget outlay

Boston school officials are projecting a lower enrollment for the Lilla Frederick Pilot Middle School next year, but civic activists and parents are disputing the figure, saying they have worked every year to increase the number of students.

Gloria West, co-chair of the school’s parent council, said she and others frequently go to health clinics and other public schools where they distribute fliers and share their experiences at the Frederick School. “By June, by the end of the school year, we have taken on an additional 25 to 30 kids,” she said. “To say our numbers have decreased, that’s not true.”

But school officials say next year’s enrollment is likely to decrease, with 528 students expected, down from 587 students this year and 633 in the 2011-2012 school year.

Lee McGuire, a Boston Public Schools spokesman, said the enrollment problem isn’t limited to the Frederick School; the city system is seeing an overall dip in the middle schools, in part due to charter schools. He did note that an increase in the size of pre-kindergarten and second grade classes is expected.

The Frederick School, located on Columbia Road, is named after a civic activist and Jamaican native who co-founded Project R.I.G.H.T. (Rebuild and Improve Grove Hall Together). Its student makeup is 48.6 percent black, 44 percent Hispanic, 3.2 percent white, and 2.5 percent Asian, according to BPS figures. English language learners make up 37. 5 percent of the student body, and 71.2 percent of the students are from low-income families.

Fewer students usually mean fewer dollars for an individual school since the system uses a funding formula that orders budgets based on the student population. The current budget for the Frederick School is $5 million, according to BPS figures. Despite the enrollment decline, the numbers went up 4 percent last year because the formula factors in a school’s diversity percentage and the amount of English Language Learners and special education students. Next year’s budget figure remains unclear.

Parents and activists say the projected enrollment figure for next year is “artificially low” and “devastates” the school’s budget. In Nov. 2009, BPS projected the June 2010 enrollment at 606, and it was 664, they said in a letter to the interim superintendent, John McDonough, and the School Committee, which signs off on the budget outlay.

The letter, signed by West and Project R.I.G.H.T.’s Michael Kozu, said that the school has seen progress, being “one percentile away from becoming a Level 2 or Level 1 school.” In addition, the authors pointed out, “We should note the significant accomplishments that the Frederick’s English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities programs have achieved. The Frederick is a 1-to-1 laptop school, has school uniforms, full service library and cafeteria, music, dance and arts.”

They also argued that the Frederick can compete with charter schools and draw students back into the city’s system. “Allow us the opportunity to continue this progress,” they wrote. “Throughout Grove Hall, you can see the numerous Frederick students walking to and from school in their uniforms. The Frederick has been instrumental in the public safety progress that has been made in Grove Hall during the past ten years. The Frederick has functioned as a ‘safe haven’ community center in this densely populated neighborhood for young people, with out of school time and summer programming, trauma sensitive staff and social workers, solid partnerships, and most importantly, a learning environment families trust and where they feel their children can be safe.”

A Dec. 13 memo from the School Department provided to the Reporter acknowledges that projections were low in the 2011 to 2012 school year, but they had the figure right for the current year. “The projected enrollment for 2014-15 of 528 students has been calculated as part of the process for calculating projections for all schools,” the memo said. “The lower projection for the next school year reflects a general trend among middle schools that is due in part to rising charter enrollment among 6th grade students. In no way does the data show systematic under-projection or depression of demand for the Frederick, particularly given that the projection for 2012-13 was significantly higher than the actual number of students.”

The Frederick School is also in the middle of the pack when it comes to students choosing it, the memo added. “Among middle schools, the Frederick is not one of the most or the least highly chosen schools,” it said. “Over the past three years, it has received between 80 and 87 first choice selections each year for a total of 251 first choices. This is below the average of 289 first choices for all middle schools, although it is above the average of 224 first choices when the two citywide middle schools (Timilty and UP Academy Boston) are excluded. Among West Zone schools, the Irving Middle has had slightly more first choice selections than the Frederick over the past three years.”

West, a mother of five, with a 15-year-old at the Frederick and an eight-year-old at the Chittick Elementary School in Mattapan, said she plans to keep pushing for a higher enrollment project and a higher budget. “We are a community, we are a family,” she said. “At what point is BPS going to say ‘we hear you’?”