Lawrence Virtual School Principal Gary Lewis is recommending the school cut its high school program because of financial hardships and slow-growing enrollment.
“Lawrence Virtual School is a K through 8 school and since we started, LVS, which has a much larger enrollment, has been supporting the cost of LVSP (Lawrence Virtual Secondary Program),” Lewis said. “We looked at the funding, and we know that school budgets are going to be cut next year.”
The secondary program grants diplomas, and students in it are either enrolled at Free State High or Lawrence High. It covers grades 9 through 12.
“We’ve been looking at options for how the bricks and mortar schools can effectively offer virtual school programs,” Lewis said.
For funding, the virtual school receives base state aid plus 5 percent from the state. However, not all of the high school students are full-time. The full-time equivalency for this school year is only 82.25, so that is the number that is multiplied by base state aid to fund 101 students.
The program had 69 students for the 2005-2006 school year and has added only 32 since.
“We’ve kept our student numbers in our K through 8 school high because of the high school — in order to fund it,” Lewis said.
The kindergarten through eighth-grade program added 227 students for the 2008-2009 program.
Parents of secondary students have been notified that the program will end after this school year.
“I understand the budget cuts,” said Pamela Clark, of Lawrence. Her son, Jonathan, is a sophomore in the program and has been a virtual school student since seventh grade. “I’m sure it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly ... I just think that something like this, there should’ve been a little notification that this was a possibility.”
Lewis said he has the support of district administrators and the high school principals. That prompted him to go ahead and notify parents.
“We owe them that respect so they can start evaluating other programs,” he said.
Lewis said district officials will be talking with parents about other virtual schools in the state that focus on grades 9 through 12.
“I have been so thankful to have the virtual school as an option for Jonathan,” Clark said. “And now all that changes, and now he’s got two years left, and now he has to find someplace else. He’ll end up being out of district.”
Lewis also linked the almost stagnant secondary virtual enrollment to the appeal of traditional high schools.
“I think when you get to high school the students are looking for those brick and mortar options for more electives and more opportunities to get involved with other students their age,” he said. “I think that affects enrollment across the state.”
The Lawrence Virtual Secondary Program has six full-time teachers, an administrator and three part-time employees. Lewis said the full-time teachers will be repurposed at the middle school level to reduce class size.
“As an accredited school, we’re constantly looking at school improvements,” Lewis said. “In order to lower class sizes, we can’t support the financial needs of the high school program.”
Lewis also noted that the administrators at LVS looked at retention numbers for next year. He said only 39 percent of students return to the secondary program. Only 18 of the 101 students enrolled in the program are in Lawrence, and just eight said they intended to return to LVSP for the 2009-2010 school year.
The recommendation will be presented to the school board at a future meeting.