Lawrence school district sees overall drop in K-12 enrollment, but slight increase of in-person learners

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

The Lawrence school district saw a slight increase in enrollment at its brick-and-mortar schools this year, but not as much as it had hoped to see.

Additionally, it saw a significant decrease in enrollment at its virtual school, leading to an overall decrease in K-12 enrollment.

During the Lawrence school board meeting on Monday, Superintendent Anthony Lewis announced the unofficial count for the 2021-22 school year, which was made on the state’s official count day on Sept. 20. It showed a decrease of 247 students, or about 2.2%.

The decrease to the overall K-12 enrollment all came from the district’s virtual school, which dropped by 410 students. Meanwhile, an increase of 163 students enrolled in the district’s school buildings.

Among the in-person learners, the district’s largest enrollment increase came at the middle school level, which grew by 81 students. The elementary level increased by 73 students and the high schools grew by nine students.

While the increase among in-person enrollment is good for the district, it was only a little more than 25% of the 589 decline of in-person learners last year. The district had seen a huge drop in enrollment last year because of the coronavirus pandemic and had hoped to see at least 50% of those students return.

“We did not reach our projections of at least a 50% (return),” Lewis told the board.

How the enrollment changes will affect the district’s current and future budgets remains unclear, said Kathy Johnson, the district’s finance director.

An increase in enrollment could help the district’s current budget if it leads to more students qualifying for “weightings” in the state’s funding formula, which are categories for which the state provides additional funds for specific purposes, such as special education students. But that won’t be determined until later in the school year, Johnson told the Journal-World.

Additionally, enrollment increases help the district’s state funding for next school year. But without seeing a larger increase, it is also unclear how it will affect the district’s funding next year.

“We’re still navigating a lot of unknowns,” Johnson said.

In other business, the board approved changing the graduation requirements for the district’s 2022 senior class as the pandemic continues to affect their schooling.

The change lowered the required number of credits for high school students to graduate. The district’s normal requirement is 23 credits; the change lowered it to 21 credits, which is the minimum number of credits that the state requires. The district had previously made the same change for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

The change was listed as part of the meeting’s consent agenda, which allows the board to approve several items in one motion without discussion.

The board also heard from the district’s human resources staff, which shared data and information on work to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the district’s student body is 35% nonwhite, while the district’s overall staff is about 16% nonwhite. About 23% of the district’s classified employees — a category that includes paraprofessionals, custodians and other positions that aren’t licensed teachers — are nonwhite. A little more than 25% of the district’s administrative employees are nonwhite. But only about 10% of the district’s teaching faculty are nonwhite.

Those figures might not be directly comparable, because the district has a “multi-racial” category for its student data, but not for its staff data. A little more than 11% of the district’s students are multi-racial. But in the reports, the administrators said that one area where the district plans to work on improving diversity is among its teaching faculty.

Meanwhile, the district saw a drop this year in its overall employee retention rate, with 83% of staff returning from last school year. Last year, the district retained about 89% of its staff; the year before, it retained about 87% of its staff.

Kaitlin Shulman, the district’s facilitator for recruitment and retention, told the board she is exploring various ways to help improve recruitment and retention, such as celebrating current staff for their work and promoting the district’s positions on social media.

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