Enrollment drops despite high test scores at USD 338
by Clarke Davis
It was the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows when the Valley Falls school board met Sept. 10.
Administrators Loren Feldkamp and Susan Grey unfurled a banner proclaiming the elementary school to be a “reward” school among the top 41 elite schools in the state of Kansas.
Then it was announced that an early student head count shows the district has lost 28 students.
The banner was presented to Feldkamp during a meeting of 60 area superintendents of schools in Topeka.
“I felt pretty proud to be one of only two superintendents in the audience to receive a top banner for my school,” he said.
School officials were notified in August that after calculating the test results for all 660 schools in Kansas the past four years that Valley Falls was one of the elite schools topping the charts.
The banner proclaiming these high standards will be posted soon in the new commons area.
The drop in student population, however, has Feldkamp stunned.
He and Grey said they looked at all the factors causing the loss of students and they vary greatly.
“I did not anticipate that,” he said.
In analyzing the various reasons for the loss of students, Feldkamp said state family services or SRS was the biggest factor.
“That’s almost too sad to talk about when children are taken from their homes,” Feldkamp said. “I don’t like talking about it and it’s something we cannot control.”
He said it affects a dozen children and that most of them may return to the community and the school eventually, but if they are not here on Sept. 20 — the official count day — the district will not receive funding to educate them.
Grey told the board that Valley Falls is also a more transient community with people moving in and out of an assortment of rental properties for various reasons.
“I know of cases where the parents moved closer to their work,” Feldkamp said.
As a community it takes attracting those 30-something parents who are raising children to come here, he said.
“What bring them here? Jobs. If those jobs are in Lawrence or Topeka, gas prices will affect that,” he said.
“I know we gained a couple of students because we have a baseball program,” the superintendent said.
The loss of the students will not immediately affect the budget. The superintendent said the district can base its budget on the previous year’s student count and the next year use a three-year average.
In other business, the board is having to study what their capital outlay expenditures are going to be while trying to guess what will happen to funding on the state level.
Feldkamp said school officials are being told that Gov. Brownback does not intend to cut base aid to students, which is now at $3,838. However, officials do not believe the pool of money for education will be increased, thus the expense for at-risk students, students on free and reduced meal tickets, and increasing transportation costs will cause budget shortages.
Board member Heidi Pickerell suggested a special board meeting be held to study finances with the superintendent coming up with the worst case scenarios they might face.
Hanging in the balance are whether to spend $170,000 for a new track surface, put down a new surface on the elementary playground, and reseed the football field.
These are capital outlay fund expenditures and right now that fund has a balance of $641,229. That’s healthy enough, the superintendent said, but that fund has no mill levy attached to it and is dependent on end-of-the-year transfers from the general fund. So if the Legislature is not kind to school funding, the board might think it best to postpone certain projects.
There is also a contingency fund with a balance of $216,800 that could be increased to $320,000. This fund is also dependent upon those transfers and this money can be spent for salaries and things in the classroom if state funding is reduced.
The superintendent’s marching orders are to get estimates on these projects so the board can make some plans.
Valley Falls is one of the few school systems that is not locked down during the day and that will change soon. plans are now in the works to put electronic openers and cameras on the doors so that people can be “buzzed” in when they come to visit. The board was given a diagram suggesting which doors will have the cameras and allow entrance.
Feldkamp thought the system would be in place by Thanksgiving or shortly after.
Board member John Shipley was absent.
In other business, the board:
- Gave approval to start a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club as presented by Jarrett Mitchell and Ben Gantz.
- Discussed the need for speed bumps on Elm Street near the new gymnasium.
- Approved longevity pay for classified personnel.
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