Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

Enrollment drops

August 23, 2001

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The allure of alternative education prompted a steep enrollment drop in the Lawrence public school district's kindergarten and first-grade classes.

It translated into the district's second consecutive first-day-of-school enrollment decline.

"That's the trend being set," Supt. Randy Weseman said. "The biggest impact is the private schools popping up and homeschooling."

The situation could become a factor in the district's school facilities study, which will include a review of whether the district can maintain 19 elementary schools ranging in enrollment from 39 students to 538 students. The decline also could affect funding.

Official enrollment numbers, which determine state funding to the district, won't be known until after a September headcount.

Based on preliminary first-day figures released Wednesday, enrollment in Lawrence public schools fell 0.8 percent, or 88 students, from a year ago, to 10,274.

Last year, the first-day figure dropped 1.5 percent, or 149 students, to 10,362. That surprising dip led to a district study of enrollment and a projection for a 0.4 percent enrollment increase this year.

Weseman said the influence of parental choice was evident when looking at elementary enrollment. There was a 64-student reduction in the district's kindergarten classes and 40-student drop among first-graders. The overall decline of 116 students put the elementary school total at 5,282 students.

Last year, elementary enrollment was down by 150 students.

Board member Scott Morgan said Lawrence had a competitive educational environment.

"We can't be indifferent to it," he said. "We may be losing a few we shouldn't be losing. Some of it you can't do anything about, because it's religiously based."

Jack Davidson, a Lawrence school board member, said the district should alter school boundaries to even out elementary enrollments.

It doesn't make sense to operate four schools with more than 400 students and six schools with less than 200 children, he said. Enrollments range from 538 students at Deerfield School to 39 students at Grant School.

"You can change all those sorts of things by changing the boundaries," Davidson said.

A 10-student decline in the district's junior high schools put that total at 2,456. In the high schools, enrollment climbed 38 students to 2,536. Lawrence High School had 1,372 students, while Free State High School had 1,164.

Weseman said many students educated in alternative elementary school settings would enter the public school system in junior high school or high school.

"We're getting kids back from alternative settings," he said.

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