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School enrollments mostly down

Online program makes Centre the exception

Staff writer

Most school districts in Marion County suffered enrollment decreases this fall.

That is a problem, because state funding is determined on a per-pupil basis. State aid to schools is $4,012 per student of weighted enrollment.

Weighted enrollment, or full-time equivalent (FTE), differs from actual enrollment based on several factors. Kindergartners don’t count as full students, with the expectation that most schools provide half-day kindergarten.

Schools also receive extra weighting for transporting students, vocational training, free lunches, and other factors.

Those weightings are provided because it is more expensive to provide those services, Hillsboro USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said.

USD 397

Centre USD 397 was the exception to the trend of decreasing enrollment in the county.

The district had a 13.1 percent increase in weighted enrollment from 2009 to 2010, primarily because the district’s online programs have attracted 25 students.

That increase accompanies an 8.2 percent increase in the actual number of students enrolled, to 276. Some of the students in the virtual program live in the district, but others are from across Kansas, Superintendent Jerri Kemble said.

The district also had a net gain of five “brick-and-mortar” students, Kemble said. The addition of the online program makes the school more attractive for all students, she said, because it increases the courses available to students, especially for upper-level math and science.

Among the virtual classes added to the curriculum are biotechnology, emerging genetics, and sports medicine, she said.

USD 398

Peabody-Burns USD 398 endured a 5.5 percent decrease in enrollment from 2009-10. The district’s 2010-11 FTE is 305.

Superintendent Rex Watson said those figures are preliminary. They will not be finalized until the state conducts an audit sometime before March.

Watson said a size disparity between graduating classes and incoming kindergarten classes is the primary reason for the decline. In 2009-10 the district had a graduating class of 32 and a kindergarten class of about 20.

The economy is also creating a lot of volatility in enrollment, he said. Between Sept. 10 and 20, nine students moved to the district, Watson said.

“There’s a segment of the population that is more mobile right now,” he said.

If a parent is unemployed, a family is more likely to move to find a better job, he said.

The actual enrollment in the district is 338, a 5.8 percent decline from 2009-10.

USD 408

Despite an overall FTE decrease of 12, Marion/Florence USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker was happy to see an enrollment increase of 12 at Marion Elementary School. He said some students moved to the district unexpectedly.

“It’s nice to have that growth,” he said.

USD 408’s 2010-11 enrollment is 566, a decrease of about 2.1 percent from 2009-10.

The increase in the elementary is especially welcome because those students will be in school longer. USD 408 was prepared for a larger decline than occurred.

“I anticipated a greater decline than what we ended up with,” Leiker said.

The smaller-than-anticipated decrease is a good sign for the budget, he said. Each district uses the highest of the current year’s enrollment, the previous year’s enrollment, or a three-year average to determine state funding. The three-year average will be the best for USD 408, and the smaller decrease buoyed that figure.

Leiker expects enrollment will continue to decline for three or four years unless businesses move to the district. There are still large classes in the high school, including 52 seniors.

“We won’t bring that many into kindergarten next year,” he said.

USD 410

Hillsboro USD 410 had a decline in weighted enrollment of 3.8 percent, Noble said in a recent Board of Education meeting.

Weighted enrollment fell from 582.6 to 560.7. The district had 10 more seniors graduate than kindergartners enroll, he said. Another 19 students left between grades.

USD 411

Goessel USD 411 had a slight decline in weighted enrollment, Superintendent John Fast said.

The district’s preliminary weighted enrollment is 557.7, which Fast estimated was about 10 below the 2009-10 figure.

Weightings for vocational classes and transportation are the primary reasons the district’s weighted enrollment is so much higher than its head count of 257, he said.

The 2010 graduating class included 33 students, considerably more than the 16 kindergartners that began school this fall.

The largest classes in Goessel are in first through third grades, Fast said. He attributed that to a growing number of young families in the district.

The large classes at the elementary school are a good sign, but Fast is wary of speculating on the district’s future.

“It’s difficult to predict,” he said.

Last modified Oct. 21, 2010

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