LOUISBURG — Superintendent Brian Biermann voiced some concern at the Monday, Sept. 9, school board meeting about declining enrollment in the Louisburg district.
Biermann provided school board members with USD 416 enrollment numbers from 2008 to 2018 that indicated the downward trend.
The state-audited numbers showed the district’s population peaked at 1,737 students in 2012. The district has declined in enrollment every year since 2015 when the count was 1,707. The school district’s 2019 enrollment as of Sept. 9 — the day of the board meeting — was 1,665 students, down about 35 students from last year’s official count of 1,700.
“These are all state-audited numbers, so anyone can go find these numbers on the KSDE (Kansas State Department of Education) building report card,” Biermann said.
Sept. 20 is the traditional date when all public school districts have to report their enrollments to the state. The state uses the numbers to calculate state aid for each district. With the official enrollment date approaching, Biermann discussed the outlook for the current school year.
“I’m very confident, unless we get families showing up in the next few days, we will not be as big as the last four years,” Biermann said.
He drew the board’s attention to the enrollment at Rockville Elementary, the district’s newest school which opened in 2008 and houses kindergarten through second-grade students.
“What really concerns me is first and second grade, with 106 in each of those,” said Biermann, who also noted kindergarten has 116 students. The first- and second-grade classes are the smallest in the district.
“Rockville maybe has never been this small,” he said. “Right now it only has 328 kids.”
Rockville Elementary was designed for 600 students and has a maximum capacity of 672 kids, according to a chart Biermann provided to the board which lists the capacity of each building in the district. Maximum capacity is based on what is required by fire officials and others to maintain safe aisles and egress, according to the chart.
Enrollment in the district’s other buildings showed similar room for growth.
Broadmoor Elemen-tary (third through fifth grades) is designed for 847 students, with a maximum capacity of 968. Current enrollment is 364 students.
Louisburg Middle School is designed to hold 538 students, with a maximum capacity of 620. Current enrollment is 402 students.
Louisburg High School is designed to accommodate 873 students, with a maximum capacity of 992. Current enrollment is 571 students.
“I think that explains we’re not overcrowded,” school board Chair Jerry Flanagan said.
Biermann said the district does not need a new school.
“As we start talking about bond projects and facility improvements, this is the main reason why we don’t have to go look at building a new elementary school,” Biermann said. “What you can see is we have extensive growth opportunities in all of our buildings.”
The school district is considering putting a bond issue before voters in 2020 to pay for maintenance and improvements to its existing buildings for items like roofs and HVAC systems as just a couple of examples. There are many more on the list.
The board and Dr. Biermann have said the bond project would upgrade all four buildings without increasing the property tax mill levy because the 2006 bonds used to build Rockville Elementary are being retired.
“The closest to capacity, and we’ve talked about that, is the middle school,” Biermann said of the 2019 enrollment. “But we also know we need to build a high-wind shelter in that building that will also double as some classrooms, which will give that building extensive growth opportunity. It will equate to probably four or five [additional] classrooms.”
Louisburg resident Pauline Hintz thanked Biermann for the report. Hintz addressed the board earlier during the patron input portion of the meeting. Hintz said she wanted to attend the meeting because she saw enrollment was on that night’s agenda.
“Since I try not to get all my information on Facebook or just from whose saying something the most or the loudest, I thought I would come here and hope to hear some information (on enrollment trends),” Hintz said.
Hintz said she attended a recent Louisburg City Council public hearing in which several speakers said schools were at or near capacity.
“There was a raucous City Council meeting a few weeks ago,” Hintz said. “One of the topics that kept coming up in response to adding more rooftops to Louisburg was that the schools were at capacity, that schools were full, that there was no room for growth without raising taxes and building more schools. That was brought up a number of times, including by people connected to the schools.”
Biermann addressed the misconception that the district is at capacity.
“Sometimes what is misconstrued on that is — take the middle school, that schedule was built for classes of about 120,” he said. “We have a lot of seventh-graders (152) … so without changing schedules, if you walk into some seventh-grade classes they might appear big, but that does not mean a school is at capacity. It’s more of a scheduling and staffing concern.”
The sixth and eighth grades at the middle school have 121 students and 129 students.
“Obviously, Louisburg is not going to shrivel up and die,” Biermann said.
The superintendent said the administration is cognizant of the declining enrollment from a financial standpoint. He said a couple of reasons might be a larger home school population and the nearby private Holy Rosary School in Wea which serves the local area.
“… We are monitoring (enrollment),” he said. “I’m not overly alarmed, but I just think the awareness should be out there.”