The Lawrence school district counted 10,184 students attending school Sept. 20, an increase of 195 students, or 2 percent, from the year before.
That was slightly more than district officials had expected, and if the trend continues, they say it could force the district to consider further expansions to some buildings or even adding another grade school or middle school.
"I think there's probably going to need to be some conversation within the next five to seven years about it," said Kyle Hayden, the district's assistant superintendent for business and operations.
All districts take an official head count on Sept. 20 each year and report that number to the Kansas State Department of Education. The number includes both full-time and part-time students. Those numbers are eventually converted into a "full time equivalent," or FTE enrollment that is used as the basis for distributing state aid for the rest of the year.
Lawrence's growth this year was more than had been projected by the district's demographics consultant RSP and Associates, but Hayden said district officials themselves weren't surprised by the overall number.
No crystal ball
"RSP had anticipated growth of 154 students, which is about 1.5 percent," he said. "We felt like based on just pre-enrollment numbers as we were going through the spring, and based on kindergarten roundup, that the number would be higher than that. And so we planned for 190."
What was surprising, Hayden said, is where the growth occurred, particularly at Deerfield school, 101 Lawrence Ave., which saw a much bigger than expected increase in kindergarten enrollment.
"Deerfield kindergarten was projected to have 67 kids, and they had (103), so, that was pretty surprising," he said. "If you went on just trend data, you would have thought they would fall at least in the 80s in their student count for new kindergartners. And so when RSP said 67, I was thinking that would be different from what we'd typically have. I would have thought it would have been a little bit more than that, but certainly not 35 kids more than that."
RSP officials have said one factor making it difficult to pinpoint enrollment at the building level is the district's relatively liberal policy of allowing transfers between buildings. But Hayden said the district has tightened that policy in recent years, and that the bigger cause for uncertainty is the somewhat transient nature of the Lawrence population.
"I think there's a lot of movement between rental properties that makes it difficult to predict," he said. "If you were to look at just transfers building-by-building, yeah it could be difficult to nail it down, but I think it's less to do with transfers than it is to do with the transient population that's moving in and out of houses and condos and town homes and rental homes."
As part of the upcoming bond-funded construction projects, the district already planned to add 11 new elementary classrooms, most of which will replace temporary mobile units that are being used in various grade schools now.
But after receiving preliminary enrollment estimates earlier this month, the Lawrence school board voted to expand the scope of the bond-funded construction projects by adding 12 more elementary classrooms to the schedule on top of the 11 that had already been planned. They also approved adding "shell" space at Sunset Hill school that could be converted into six more classrooms in the future.
That adds up to 29 new, and potential new classrooms already being planned. That additional space beyond what was already planned with the bond issue will be funded with a combination of bond-related earnings and capital outlay funds.
The school board recently agreed to form a standing committee to monitor enrollment trends and make recommendations each year about adjusting the boundaries of attendance zones to keep school populations in balance.
But as the students in those growing grade schools get older, Hayden said the district may have to look at either expanding the existing four middle schools, or possibly building a fifth middle school.
He noted that three of the four middle schools - South, Southwest and West - are already nearing their current capacity, although Liberty Memorial Central Middle School has room for about 200 more students. But that may only buy the district some time.