Lawrence school district reinstates boundary advisory committee, could address enrollment capacity issues at Quail Run, other schools
photo by: Lawrence Journal-World file photo
In light of a future enrollment forecast showing an elementary school will reach its full capacity in the next few years, the Lawrence school district has reinstated a committee that reviews school enrollment boundaries.
But the committee could look into addressing more than just one building’s capacity issues.
Along with the expectation that Quail Run Elementary will reach 99% capacity by the 2024-25 school year, the district’s forecast also shows some elementary schools far below an 85% threshold, which the district’s enrollment consultants consider the optimal utilization for building capacity.
Additionally, the enrollment difference between Lawrence’s two high schools is expected to grow, with Free State High School enrollment featuring almost 400 more students than Lawrence High.
However, it’s unclear if those issues will be part of the committee’s upcoming discussions. School Board President Kelly Jones told the Journal-World that the boundary advisory committee does not yet have a formal charge.
“We’re looking broadly across the district at space and not at a specific building yet,” Jones said. “After when the committee meets, they may find there is cause to focus on a particular part of town because school space is over utilized or underutilized.”
The district’s enrollment projections were provided to the board during its Oct. 26 meeting, when RSP Associations, the district enrollment consultants, gave its annual update.
Selected USD 497 elementary school building capacity forecasts
Quail Run :
2021-22, 95.2%; 2022-23, 96.8%; 2023-24, 97.2%; 2024-25, 99.0%
Prairie Park :
2021-22, 81.8%; 2022-23, 85.0%; 2023-24, 87.5%; 2024-25, 87.5%
2021-22, 80.8%; 2022-23, 79.3%; 2023-24, 81.9%; 2024-25, 83.8%
2021-22, 43.9%; 2022-23, 43.7%; 2023-24, 41.7%; 2024-25, 41.7%
2021-22, 54.1%; 2022-23, 58.1%; 2023-24, 57.8%; 2024-25, 60.4%
2021-22, 62.5%; 2022-23, 66.2%; 2023-24, 68.9%; 2024-25, 71.0%
Elementary schools total:
2021-22, 74.6%; 2022-23, 73.9%; 2023-24, 75.0%; 2024-25, 76.7%
Note: The school district’s recommended building capacity utilization is between 85 and 95%.
The company’s projection shows Quail Run, which serves a portion of northwest Lawrence, passing the district’s recommended building capacity utilization — which is an enrollment of 85% to 95% of a building’s capacity — next school year. The enrollment is then expected to continue growing, reaching 99% capacity during the 2024-25 school year.
As the Journal-World previously reported, Rob Schwarz of RSP told the board Quail Run serves a neighborhood that appears to be going through a “regreening” phase, where families with children older than elementary school are moving out and new, younger families with elementary-age children are moving in.
While Quail Run is the only school building expected to surpass that 95% threshold in the next few years, other buildings are heading in that direction. Prairie Park Elementary is expected to increase to 87.5% full and Langston Hughes Elementary is expected to increase to 84% full during the same time frame.
Those two buildings aren’t experiencing an immediate capacity issue, but when they are compared to other buildings in the district, their enrollment is relatively high.
At least three elementary schools in central and eastern parts of Lawrence have enrollments well below the optimal utilization, including Kennedy Elementary, which is expected to continue to have an enrollment of less than 50% of its building capacity. Additionally, the Kennedy and Prairie Park boundaries are adjacent to each other in southeast Lawrence, providing a stark difference in enrollment in neighboring buildings.
Before the district reinstated the committee, Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the board members during its Oct. 26 meeting that the district could have discussions on how to “balance” the school district’s enrollment among its schools. Overall, the district forecast showed the elementary buildings reaching just 76.7% of a shared capacity in the same timeframe. That leaves plenty of room for a reshuffling of students, rather than a need for the addition of new school buildings through bond construction.
Additionally, as the enrollment grows at Quail Run and Langston Hughes, the enrollment at their neighboring high school is expected to grow as well. Free State is expected to see its enrollment increase to 1,885 students by 2024-25, with an enrollment taking up 94.2% of the building’s capacity.
The district’s other high school, LHS, is seeing a slower enrollment increase. The building is also undergoing a large remodel, adding many classrooms and increasing the building’s capacity. By 2024-25, the school is expected to have an enrollment of about 1,515, which uses just under 76% of the building’s capacity.
The two schools’ attendance boundaries are split by Lawrence’s 15th Street, with the northern side attending Free State and the southern side attending LHS. In recent years, the northwest part of Lawrence has seen significant growth compared to the rest of the city.
Schwarz said at the October meeting the high school enrollment difference could also be something the district needs to discuss in the future.
“We have to start understanding if we are seeing trends occurring in each of these attendance boundaries and are we comfortable with the difference in enrollment between Lawrence High and Free State,” Schwarz said. “If we are, we move on. But that’s something that’s probably a conversation.”
No specific charge yet
After reviewing the enrollment data on Oct. 26, board members Shannon Kimball and G.R. Gordon-Ross asked the district to reinstate the boundary committee to look into those matters.
The district recently accepted applications from community members to serve on the committee and is in the process of reviewing who of those applicants will be selected to serve, said district spokeswoman Julie Boyle.
In the past, the committee consisted of two board members, district operation and facility officials, school building principals, a teacher representative, a City of Lawrence Planning representative, a busing representative, and four community-at-large representatives. Boyle said the committee meets as needed, and could meet once or twice a month.
While the committee hasn’t met in a few years, Jones noted the committee has always existed, but has been dormant for various reasons. She said Gordon-Ross and Carole Cadue-Blackwood are the board members currently assigned to the committee.
Gordon-Ross served on the committee when it last met in 2018 to address then-enrollment concerns at Quail Run and Langston Hughes Elementary. That committee reworked the boundaries to move students from those two schools to Sunset Hill Elementary, which had just undergone a bond expansion for that purpose.
However, when asked this week if he had any specific ideas on what the committee should review now, Gordon-Ross said he did not yet have any. But he said he believed the adjusting boundaries could be a solution to enrollment issues.
“My goal for the committee would be to look at how we can use boundaries within the district to solve current and future issues as we see them,” Gordon-Ross said in an email. “I don’t necessarily have a specific list of issues that I’m looking to solve this instant — but (I) believe that the district as a whole has issues and will have issues moving forward.”
He added that he doesn’t think any topics related to boundaries in the district would be off limits to discuss.
Jones said she believed the reinstatement of the committee is still in the early stages, and it may be some time before it has a clear view of action that needs to be considered.
While the committee could address Quail Run, Jones took a broader view of the committee. She said she believes that committee should be meeting at least once a year, rather than every few years when an issue appears to be looming, to make sure the district is doing its due diligence.
“We do have some spots where maybe we could do better, in terms of where the boundary lines are assigned,” she said. “If you balance it correctly, you can have a positive impact on the budget, class sizes and on any number of factors in terms of how you utilize resources that could allow the district to operate more efficiently,” she added.
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