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Detroit schools' budget deficit smaller than expected

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Detroit Public Schools is offering 45 schools to charter companies.

A recent audit showed the Detroit Public Schools' deficit for the 2014-15  fiscal year is smaller than originally projected.

DPS officials said they had expected the annual deficit to be in the range of $70 million. But the audit puts it at $46.5 million, more than $22 million less.

"The cost containment measures that we've put in place, some of the issues of downsizing our central office and restructuring that has gone on, are beginning to show movement in the right direction," said DPS emergency manager Darnell Early.

Early said the district also is losing fewer students than in previous years. Public schools receive state funding for each student enrolled. 

According to DPS, enrollment has declined 10 to 11% annually in the past. But in the 2014-15 fiscal year, the district lost just 2.7% of its student population. And preliminary enrollment figures for this fall are coming in at 46,325,  a 1.7% loss from the previous year and about 30 more students than budgeted for FY 2016.  

The district says it still faces a legacy liability of about $515 million.

"If the legacy debt were gone, our financial statements would show that we finished in the black," said Early, explaining that having to pay $56 million to service the debt keeps the district in the red.