Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Lawrence district down 182 students

August 20, 2002


Talk about first-day-of-school anxiety.

After rolls were taken at Lawrence public schools Monday, officials were dismayed to discover enrollment might have dropped 182 students  significantly more than their earlier break-even forecasts.

That could lead to a loss of more than $800,000 in state aid to the district if Monday's head count of 10,046 students doesn't improve by the time of the official count Sept. 20.

Combine that likely cut of state per-pupil aid with Gov. Bill Graves' decision last week to immediately slash $440,000 in funding to the district due to a state revenue shortfall, and the Lawrence school board is facing a financial emergency less than a week into the 2002-2003 school year.

"We're going to have to very soon get together and address where these reductions will come from," said Scott Morgan, board president.

He said the district's administrative staff would present the board with options for reducing spending Sept. 9.

The district's budget for this year was based on projections that enrollment would remain the same. That appears to have been an optimistic assumption, given that enrollment in the Lawrence district declined the previous two years.

'A trend'

"It's a trend at this point," Morgan said. "The big picture is that we're coming up short, and we're going to have to address it."

Here's the breakdown:

l Elementary (18 schools): 5,077 students, 161 fewer than last year.

l Junior high (four): 2,440, down 16.

l High school (two): 2,529, down seven.

While two-thirds of the district's elementary schools enrolled fewer students, the sharpest decline occurred at Quail Run School. The school had 409 children in class, a decline of 79.

Principal Paulette Strong said she had prepared for a reduction of about 60 students, based on economic problems that forced some families to move away from Quail Run. She had no explanation for the loss of an additional 20 students.

Good news at Quail Run is smaller class sizes, she said. It was just three years ago that more than 600 students crammed into Quail Run, which wasn't designed for that many children.

"When you have kindergarten and first-grade numbers that average 16 kids, that is phenomenal for young kids," Strong said.

Surge at Woodlawn

Not all schools experienced losses.

A peculiar enrollment surge at Woodlawn School sent Principal Joni Appleman scrambling to hire an additional teacher.

"We're adding a first-grade class. I just got approval," Appleman said.

However, Woodlawn's 57-student, or 35 percent, increase in enrollment over last year's first day tally wasn't enough to compensate for declines at schools elsewhere in the district.

At Woodlawn, Appleman said a portion of the school's enrollment growth could be explained by closure of nearby Grant School in May. About 20 Grant students transferred to Woodlawn.

She also said growth might reflect the slow but steady expansion of affordable housing in North Lawrence. Evidence of that may be an enrollment of 30 first-graders, enough for a second class.

"Some young families are moving in," she said.

Central Junior High School took the biggest hit among the district's four junior highs. A drop of 40 students to a total of 507 wasn't anticipated, said Ted Juneau, Central's principal. He said a portion of that drop might be eliminated before the official count in September.

"We tend to have a pretty transient population," he said. "I think our numbers will be up next month  15 or so students."

Juneau could be right about Central, but the district's official junior high enrollment last September was 35 students fewer than the first-day tally in August.

Overall enrollment at the high schools dropped by only seven students. But that reflected an increase of 55 students at Free State and a decline of 62 students at LHS.

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