For the first time in several years, the USD 373 enrollment shows something unexpected — a decrease in enrollment.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 23 edition of the Kansan.

For the first time in several years, the USD 373 enrollment shows something unexpected — a decrease in enrollment.

“We are down 80 students by head count from a year ago,” said assistant superintendent Gary Jantz. “That equals 60.6 by full-time equivalency. ... We were expecting about half of that loss, but not the total.”

The loss will not create a budget problem for the school district — at least not this year.

But it might create problems in future years.

“Based on the numbers we have we will be fine this year,” Jantz said. “But looking at 2009-10, without a $59 increase to state aid, we will be in the negatives. General fund dollars will be lean the next couple of years.”

The state uses the full-time equivalency and weighting adjustments to calculate how much state aid each school district receives.

The Legislature has passed a $59 increase to the base state aid per pupil for 2009-10. Jantz said; however, if state revenues are down, there is noting preventing the Legislature from removing that from the 2009-10 budget.

Even with the increase in the budgets, Newton would face a more than $88,000 decrease in the general fund budget in 2010-11.

The loss of students is puzzling in many respects — and expected in others.

Youthville closed one cottage for renovations, leading to a loss of 20 students at Eby Learning Center, a school maintained by USD 373 on the Youthville campus.

The district also is down more than 50 students at the high school — part of that from a larger-than-normal senior class last spring followed by a smaller a freshman class this fall.

But that doesn’t account for all of the losses.

“Other than students leaving, I don’t know how to account for losses at the high school,” Jantz said. “We did not retain as many in 9-11 than we expected. We always lose some, and we do have historical retention rates we can use as a predictor. Whether its students moving out, or students taking virtual classes, private school or home schooling, I don’t have a handle at this point.”

There is good news, however. Both the middle school and elementary school levels increased this fall — elementary by 22 students and 18 at the middle school level.

“That will help us down the road,” Jantz said. “This is not an exact science. We try and base it on historical data, and most of the time, we are pretty accurate.”