Enrollment down again in large districts, up in small schools | Local News


Enrollment continued to decline slightly in two of the region’s largest school districts, while enrollment increased in at least one smaller district and one private school.

After declines in public school enrollment last fall were largely attributed to families choosing alternatives during the pandemic, continued minor declines in Mankato and Saint-Pierre this fall are largely attributed to smaller kindergarten classes. provided that. For a second year, it seems that families are choosing to hold their future kindergartens for a year.

Leaders from Loyola and St. Clair schools say the increase in enrollment is not necessarily due to the ongoing pandemic. They have been on an upward trajectory for several years.

Most public school funding is determined by the number of students. A change of only a few students means a significant gain or loss of income.

But there is additional state financial assistance this year for districts that have lost students. For the Mankato district, the new dollars will almost make up for its loss.

Registration numbers

Enrollment declined for a second consecutive year in the Mankato and St. Peter school districts.

Public schools in the Mankato region have lost almost 4% of their students in the past two years. The district has 8,375 students this fall, down 58 from last school year and 310 from 2019-20.

Public schools in the St. Peter’s area were down 8%. There are now 2,014 students, up from 2,131 last fall and 2,195 in fall 2019.

The larger districts continue to see the biggest declines in enrollment, said Tom Sager, director of business services for public schools in the Mankato area.

“Very similar to last year, the bigger the community and the bigger the school district, the bigger the impact,” he said.

As both districts anticipated another year of slight decline in enrollment, the drop was larger than expected. Mankato lost 27 more students than expected and Saint-Pierre lost 85 more.

Mankato School Board member Kristi Schuck praised district forecasters for being so close to accuracy. She called the arrival of 30 students “extraordinary” after “18 very difficult months”.

Meanwhile, enrollment has jumped more than 13% at St. Clair public schools over the past two school years. The district now has 774 students, up from 720 last year and 684 in 2019-2020.

In the Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial District, the number of registrations is slightly higher than expected, but still slightly below the norm. The district has 943 students this fall, six more than expected. The district typically has around 950 or more students.

Enrollment at Kato’s public charter school has remained stable at around 55 students during the pandemic.

Enrollment continued to increase at Loyola Catholic School in Mankato, reaching a record 540 preschool through grade 12 students this fall.

Kindergarten factor

Both in Mankato and Saint-Pierre, the projections for a very large kindergarten class did not materialize this fall.

The number of kindergarten admissions dropped significantly last fall, likely because the pandemic brought parents of children who recently turned 5 and had a choice of starting at that time or wait a year to choose the latest.

It now appears that the lingering pandemic has led another group of parents to make the same decision this fall, Sager told members of the Mankato school board last week.

“We have another group of preschools in red shirts that we expected to see come in but didn’t,” he said.

Kindergarten enrollments have rebounded more than last fall in Mankato, but are still lower than 2019. In all other years, enrollment was slightly higher than expected, but not quite enough to close the gap in kindergarden.

Mask requirements

School officials said they believe masking requirements played only a nominal role in enrollment decisions this fall.

Public schools in the Mankato area require masks in elementary and middle schools. Loyola Catholic School started the year with a K-8 requirement. St. Peter’s Public Schools started the year with a full mask tenure, but then lifted the requirement in high school. In other schools in the region, masks are recommended but not mandatory.

“I think we’ve had a few families who chose St. Clair because of the mask requirement (in other districts),” Superintendent St. Clair said. Tim Collins. “But at the same time, we may have lost a few families who wanted their children to wear masks. “

Sager said he had not personally heard of any families leaving due to the requirement, but he did hear of one or two who were drawn to the district because of the masks. But not all families share their reasons for entering or leaving the neighborhood, he noted.

Superintendent of the Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial School District. Mark Westerburg said he heard from some parents that they would have considered an online alternative if masks had been mandatory.

The Kato Public Charter School ran ads in The Press Press, promoting that it did not require a mask, but saw no increase in enrollment.

Loyola Catholic School principal Adam Bemmels said masks were also a topic of debate at his school, but there was no departure.

“As much as people expressed their opinions, those who spoke remained with us,” he said.

Loyola Catholic School math teacher Kelli French chats with her class in one of the new classrooms after the school expanded this fall.

Other factors

In addition to private and charter school options, families can choose to attend a public school outside of their home district through the open enrollment process.

Leaders of public schools in the Mankato region have yet to analyze how many families living in the district have chosen open enrollment or other public and private alternatives and home schooling this fall, said Wise. But he expects the numbers to be about the same as last fall, when a spike in people choosing alternatives caused enrollments of more than 250 students to plummet.

St. Clair’s Collins has yet to see the number of open entries for this year. But it has historically contributed significantly to the growth of enrollments in his district. Over half of St. Clair’s students do not live in the area south of Mankato.

Collins said he believes the main reason some families have chosen St. Clair hasn’t changed.

“There will always be families who prefer a smaller, quality school system where their children can participate at all levels,” he said.

At Loyola Catholic School, Bemmels said improving retention rates is a driver of increased enrollment in recent years at the private pre-K-12 school in Mankato. Fewer students are leaving to go to other schools, especially at transition points such as moving from middle school to high school.

“We have built a good momentum and we continue to do a good job here,” said Bemmels.

In recent years, Loyola has grown by around 40 students each year. This year it has increased to 50. The school has added a third class in some classes this year and has filled to capacity at two levels.

Loyola added seven new classrooms this fall by expanding old school-linked offices owned by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

At Kato Public Charter School, Principal Mymique Baxter said the biggest barriers to increasing enrollment continue to overcome a negative perception or lack of awareness at her school. The public school is open tuition-free to all students in grades 6 to 12.

A lot of people still don’t know it exists or don’t realize it’s open to everyone, Baxter said. Others may know it was almost closed in 2018 due to low student attendance and test scores.

But the school has since gained new leadership and revamped its curriculum.

“We’re not the same school,” Baxter said.

Financial impact

Most public school funding allocations are determined by the number of enrollments. Each student generates on average more than $ 10,000 in income statewide, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education.

In the Mankato area school district, Sager said the 27 fewer students than expected amounted to a loss of about $ 325,000.

But the district receives more than $ 320,000 in new state funding.

The state has historically provided a small amount of money to districts that have lost students. This year, the state is also using a portion of its federal COVID relief dollars to provide additional one-time support – nearly $ 1,100 for every student lost last year.

Additional funds are determined based on enrollment losses from the previous school year and dollars will flow to districts that school year. Several other districts in the region also receive funding, including St. Peter ($ 89,000), Waseca ($ 112,000), Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial ($ 62,000) and Le Sueur-Henderson ($ 61,000).

Additional students had a net positive financial impact at St. Clair, Collins said. There were additional expenses for computers and other equipment for these students. But the district didn’t need to hire additional staff – this is the biggest expense – to accommodate the additional students this year, as they are spread across multiple grade levels.

Future forecasts

School officials in the area said they expect enrollment to rebound or continue to grow in the years to come.

A projection for public schools in the Mankato area shows enrollment to drop below 7,800 in five years. But Sager says this model does not take into account any of the new housing developments coming to the Mankato area.

“We still expect our school district to grow over the next five to ten years,” he said.

Collins expects some of these new residents to Mankato District to choose to attend his smaller district of St. Clair.

Westerburg has said he hopes for a rebound at Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial Lake as the pandemic ends and families who have chosen e-learning believe it is safe to return.

Baxter, his staff and supporters will work to publicize Kato’s new public charter school, which will be able to accommodate up to 220 students once the pandemic is over.

Loyola is no longer planning expansions, but Bemmels said there is still room to expand upon reaching the capacity of his current footprint.

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