Lawrence school district was expected to see slight enrollment increase this year, but saw decrease because of COVID-19

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

Earlier this year, consultants for the Lawrence school district forecast a slight increase in student enrollment for the 2020-21 school year, but the district instead saw a massive decrease because of COVID-19, school board members heard Monday.

Rob Schwarz, of enrollment consulting company RSP Associates, presented projected enrollment data to the Lawrence school board Monday. The projections, which were made after the 2019-20 school year concluded, showed an expected increase of roughly 30 students at the district’s K-12 buildings for the 2020-21 school year, which Schwarz called a “stable” enrollment.

However, the district’s recent student enrollment count in September didn’t match that projection. Instead, the district saw a decrease of 589 students in K-12 buildings, according to recent enrollment data.

That data does not include the district’s virtual school, which saw an increase of 264 students this school year. When the virtual school is factored in, the district as a whole saw enrollment fall by 325 students, or about 2.8%, the Journal-World has reported.

Schwarz said that at the time the enrollment forecast was created, it wasn’t clear how parents would choose to educate their children as the pandemic continued. He said the change in enrollment could also change the district’s forecast in the future, because it’s currently unknown whether those students will eventually return to Lawrence schools.

“How do we have these students return? Or do they even return? Those are things that we can look at with the 2021 school data,” Schwarz said.

Additionally, RSP’s data shows most schools in the district are being “underutilized,” meaning their student enrollment is below the school building’s capacity. However, one school, Quail Run Elementary, is expected to surpass its capacity in the near future.

Schwarz said that’s because 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.

Elsewhere, several elementary schools have plenty of capacity for students, including Cordley, Kennedy and Pinckney elementary schools. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said this information could be used to help the district deal with the coronavirus pandemic, if the district needs to use school buildings with more space to help with social distancing. Additionally, he said the district may need to consider school boundary changes to help balance the enrollment among buildings, which led board members to ask for a committee that considers boundary issues to begin meeting again.

The school board plans to further discuss how the enrollment data will affect the district during its next meeting on Nov. 9. Lewis said finance director Kathy Johnson will explain budget information, which is largely dictated by student enrollment. As the Journal-World recently reported, up to $1.5 million of state funding could be at risk because of the enrollment drop. However, the district should have options provided by state law to soften the blow.

In other business, the board heard from several parents who called on the district to move back to fully in-person learning or produce a plan to eventually move back to fully in-person. Lewis said district administration is set to discuss a plan during the board’s next meeting on Nov. 9.

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