Newton schools project enrollment decline

Chad Frey

While some districts in the area — notably El Dorado and McPherson — have announced what students can expect when school starts in the days ahead (both will be using a hybrid model as classes start for the fall term), Newton has not yet made that clear.

Of the three school districts, Newton is the last one out of the gate for a start date, with classes set to begin Sept. 3. And while it is not yet known where on the scale school will start in the “flexible plan,” it is known how many students will be affected by the decision.

According to numbers released by the district, about 2,591 students are enrolled in the flexible plan.

Those families will be notified on a weekly basis what to expect the following week — in school all day every day, in school for two days a week with online instruction on other days or online-only learning.

Superintendent Fred Van Ranken said Tuesday that on Monday nights — rather than Wednesdays as was previously discussed — math calculations will be done to place the district on a continuum for the gating criteria.

“That would give parents (more time) to make arrangements,” he said.

Once finalized by district administration, the criteria will be announced on Aug. 26.

That decision will be based on current COVID-19 caseloads and hospitalization. The Kansas State Department of Education issued guidance and gating criteria to school districts last week to try and aid the decision.

The guidance includes evaluating attendance by students and staff and other considerations.

Teachers entered the building for training last week.

“A couple of our teachers (said) ’I am ready to be around my kids,’ ” said Sheila Wendling, assistant superintendent of instructional services. “They miss them and have not seen them. The struggle is real. They want the safety part of it, but they want to see their kids.”

There are a number of students they will not see in person.

In Newton USD 373, 726 students are enrolled in the remote-only program — nearly 22% of students enrolled in the district. At the elementary level, Slate Creek showed the most remote-only students at 60 out of 202 enrolled, for 29% of the student body.

About 3,317 students are enrolled in school. According to statements during this week’s board of education meeting, that represents about a 3% drop in enrollment from 2019. Final counts will be performed in September, as per state statute.

Also per statute, the district should not lose funding with the enrollment decline. Districts have some flexibility as to which year they use as a count, or an average over multiple years for the counts used to determine state funding.