The final report of the demographic study for the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) was delivered on Feb. 12. According to the study, East’s current enrollment is 1,652 students. The building has a capacity of 2,159 students, resulting in a 507 student deficit. The drop in enrollment could result in a change in boundary lines, but no decisions have been made as of now.
Preston Smith, principal owner of Business Information Services, LLC, has done about 200 similar studies around the country and had never seen so much excess capacity as he had in the SMSD schools. He says this excess capacity is effecting schools negatively through wasted funds on utilities.
“It costs more to operate [schools under capacity],” Smith said. “You’ve got a lot of space that your heating, your cooling, your lighting is not being used very effectively. It’s not really efficient the way buses are run. You waste a lot of fuel.”
As a way to increase enrollment throughout SMSD schools Business Information Services provided four recommended scenarios to the district. All four scenarios included a change in boundaries and school closings. According to Smith, these were only recommendations and there is no definitive solution he thinks the district should follow.
Superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson announced at a board of education meeting on March 24 that the district has no plans to close any school, but is looking to rearrange boundary lines which would change which neighborhoods attend which schools. No set decision has been made regarding boundary changes, but East area board of education representative Donna Bysfield says the district is currently looking to change the boundaries of under-enrolled elementary schools and try to avoid changing any the feeder patterns going into middle and high schools.
Principal John McKinney said he would follow any changes the district made, but his main concern is a change in feeder patterns. He worries it will disrupt the traditions associated with going to same schools as siblings.
“When you have feeder patterns it really gives a sense of tradition,” McKinney said. “I think that’s a neat part of this district and any changes would disrupt that tradition.”
Since he started working at East in 2000, McKinney says he has also seen a drop in enrollment. He attributes this drop to the older community in the East area and competition with private schools.
“I think its wonderful that we have such a great, established community and all their support, but they don’t have kids,” McKinney said. “It’s difficult for young, married couples, couples that are having school age kids. There aren’t as many homes for them to move into in our area.”
From 1990 to 2012 there was a 7.2 percent drop in births in the 66208 area code. The older population also prevents new families from moving into the area, and according to Smith, provides no new incentive for development. District-wide there are 117,082 households documented, and out of those 2,829 houses were moved into last year by families with school-aged children. Out of these families, 78 percent only has one child.
Data from the Kansas State Department of Education shows 5.5 percent of Kansas students are home-schooled or enrolled in private schools. This number is higher for East and the district, which in turn helps explain the decreased enrollment. There are currently 24 private schools that compete for students within the Shawnee Mission School District boundaries. Bysfield, who has been representing the East area for 21 years, says she has seen a steady 20 percent of students living in the district attending private schools.
“I’m a realist so I know if parents are looking for a religious school experience then we’re not going to get those folks here, that’s just the way it goes,” McKinney said. “I think that if they will allow me to talk to them about what East has to offer and demonstrate the focus here is on academics but also allowing kids to have a whole high school experience.”
Some of the East feeder elementary schools have the highest percentages of students enrolled in private schools. Westwood View, on the northern border of the East area, had 39.9 percent of the students in its attendance zone enrolled in private schools. Prairie Elementary had 35.2 percent of its population in private schools, and Corinth Elementary had 25.2 percent.
While the demographic study showed decreased enrollment this year, McKinney does see enrollment circling back around eventually due to efforts to recruit private school students and a younger population trying to move into the area.
The demographic study reflected this as well. The highest enrollment projection for the 2014-2015 school year is 1,549 students. This is expected to increase over the years with a highest projection of 1,752 students for the 2023-2024 school year.
To Bysfield, these long term projections don’t seem to be necessarily accurate. While she thinks past data can give an idea of future enrollment numbers, it can’t fully predict it due to outside circumstances such as families moving in and out of the district.
“Its a cyclical thing, but its not a predictable thing,” Bysfield said.