Enrollment down, but officials expect growth to come
Tonganoxie school enrollment is down this year, but officials don't think that's the trend of the future.
Although Tonganoxie's population has been growing steadily, USD 464 enrollment has been sliding since 1994. District enrollment this year is 1,465; a year ago it was 1,508.
"In last year's senior class we had 140 graduates," said Richard Erickson, school superintendent. "At the same time, there were only 80 kindergarten students."
According to district figures, enrollment has dropped by nearly 100 students in the past five years.
Erickson attributed declining enrollment to three factors: demographics, more students in private schools and more in home schools.
"About 50 to 60 percent of the new people moving out here are either in the pre-kid generation or the post-kid generation people who are about 10 years away from retirement and have no kids at home," Erickson said.
Apart from being a curiosity, the enrollment decline is a vital factor when planning the district budget, Erickson said, because the school receives about $5,000 in state aid for each of its students.
"When there are 80 fewer students," he said, "that takes about $400,000 out of our budget."
The district's total budget is close to $7 million for this school year. Erickson said that about $5 million of that goes for payroll.
Shelly Gossett, administrator of Genesis Christian, said the 3-year-old private school has an enrollment of 47. Of the 10 students in this year's kindergarten class, eight live within the boundaries of USD 464, she said.
The school has about 16 students from the Tonganoxie area. But
Four students who live in USD 464 attend Bishop Seabury Academy in rural Lawrence. Seabury is a private school serving students in grades seven through 10.
Connie Reynolds, who lives near Basehor, has been home-schooling two of her children for three years. She estimated that 30 to 40 families living in the USD 464 area do the same. She said that amounted to about 100 children.
Despite decreasing enrollment, Erickson said he had faith that the district will grow.
"We will probably face enrollment loss for at least one more year," Erickson said. "Hopefully, then we'll start to see larger kindergarten and first-grade classes as the houses go up in the community."
And as houses go up, the school district intends to be ready. The district owns land on the south side of town.
"That's where the 80 acres comes in," Erickson said. "If we start to see some enrollment growth, obviously we would have to expand. What I would like to see would be a fifth- through eighth-grade facility out there. That would free up the fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms at the elementary school, and provide for more growth. That also would provide for a seventh- and eighth-grade facility out there which would free up the middle school to convert to a nine-twelve campus."
The plan would allow the district to grow from its current enrollment of about 1,450 to 2,500 students, Erickson said.
"This would allow us, in a pretty cost-effective way, to be ready for the growth of the future," Erickson said. "And there would be something for everyone in it as well, because we would be looking at renovations of the elementary and high schools."
He gave a rough estimate of about $9 million for the project.
Erickson said that, as a balance is reached between population and school enrollment, it would be ideal if district enrollment would increase by about 30 to 50 students each year.