School enrollment numbers continue to decline
USD 343 takes biggest hit; Valley Falls has gain of one
by Dennis Sharkey
Jefferson County school enrollment overall is still in a decline and has become a trend.
The greatest disparity is in the Perry-Lecompton USD 343 where they are down 69 students from last year.
Superintendent Dr. Denis Yoder said the district has been trending toward a decline the last couple of years but this is the biggest drop yet and more than double the drop from last year when the district lost about 30 students.
Last year USD 343 graduated 98 students but only 52 showed up for kindergarten in August.
“Therein is the big issue,” Yoder said.
Yoder said a better economy would probably help the numbers but not completely solve the issue.
He believes that some people may have moved from the area but the main problem is younger families are not moving into the district because of a lack of housing.
“People like to live in this area, they raise their children and they stay here,” Yoder said. “Many of those houses are occupied.”
Yoder said the area also has some natural features that may be inhibiting housing construction because most of the district lies in a flood plane. Occasionally the district will hear rumors of new developments but most of the time they are just rumors.
“We hear about those things but they haven’t come to fruition yet,” Yoder said.
The county’s second largest school district, Jefferson West USD 340, also saw a decline but not as drastic as USD 343. This year USD 340 is down about 10 students from last year’s count.
Some of the county’s smaller districts are also seeing the numbers dwindle.
Jefferson County North USD 339 is the county’s smallest district. Superintendent Denise Jennings said her district is down about 15 students from last year. But, unlike USD 343, Jennings said the decline was expected.
“We knew we were dropping at least 21 students at graduation,” Jennings said.
Last year JCN graduated 41 students but had only 20 students heading to the first grade. However, USD 339 got a boost when 44 kindergartners showed up for school this fall.
Oskaloosa USD 341 saw its numbers decline but not as much as was expected. Superintendent Jon Pfau said his district had about eight fewer students than last year. However, the district had budgeted for a decline of 18 students.
Pfau has been seeing a trend of decline for his district in the last decade but sees this year’s numbers as a little sign of hope that the trend may be leveling off.
Not all of the county’s schools saw a decline this year which is a reprieve from previous years.
McLouth USD 342 saw its numbers increase by a couple of students this year when a decline was projected.
Superintendent Steve Splichal said his district had a large kindergarten class this year of more than 50 that helped the numbers.
Splichal said the numbers are a reason to be excited, but he wants to see next year’s numbers before he gets too excited.
“We would like to see where the trend takes us,” Splichal said. “Is it a one year blip or part of a greater trend?”
Valley Falls USD 338 had also been trending downwards but had an unexpected rise in attendance this year of one student.
“It was good news for us,” said USD 338 Superintendent Loren Feldkamp.
The district had projected about a six to seven student decrease but was surprised in August when 37 Kindergartners showed up for school. The last three years have seen incoming class sizes of 23, 22 and 29 students. Last year the district graduated 35 seniors.
Feldkamp said his district saw an influx of people moving in from out of state. Some families came from Oklahoma, Colorado and even Missouri for different reasons. Some moved here to be closer to family while others are here for work.
Although the large class of kindergartners is a welcome sign for the district, Feldkamp said he can’t get too excited because by the time that class gets further in school the numbers may not be the same.
“People are going to go where they can find jobs,” he said. “I like having 37 kids in kindergarten but I would like to have those 37 kids in fourt grade too. That’s the challenge.”
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