Shawnee Mission falls short on kindergarten projections to start new year — final head count comes next month

SMSD enrollment

After seeing enrollment drop by 1,500 students overall last school year, Shawnee Mission district leaders say they are short by about 200 students this fall on their projections for kindergarten enrollment. A final district-wide enrollment count will be conducted Sept. 20, which will be used to help calculate the district's state funding in future years. File photo.

Early indications suggest the Shawnee Mission School District’s student enrollment, especially among the district’s youngest learners, has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

Any enrollment declines won’t impact this year’s budget, which was finalized this week, but could affect SMSD’s state funding starting next year.

Why it matters: District officials reported to the board of education this week that kindergarten enrollment so far is below projections by about 200 students, though still higher than the start of last school year.

For the 2021-22 school year, the district projected to have 2,111 kindergarten students. However, as of Aug. 20 — one week into the fall semester — Chief Financial Officer Russell Knapp told the board there are 1,909 kindergarteners enrolled.

That’s an improvement from last August, when just 1,800 kindergartners enrolled at the start of a year in which SMSD began with all children in remote learning. But it remains behind the 2,030 kindergartners the district enrolled in fall 2019, the last year not impacted by the pandemic.

Overall, Shawnee Mission’s student enrollment dropped last school year by roughly 1,500 students, with the biggest declines in kindergarten and first grade.

The impacts:  That 1,500-student decline contributed to SMSD’s lowest enrollment in five years, but it didn’t impact last year’s budget, nor will it impact this year’s.

That’s because a few years ago ,state law changed, Knapp said.

Districts are now able to use the higher enrollment figure of the two prior years when planning their budgets.

This means lower enrollment numbers would not start impacting the district’s budgeting until planning for the 2023 budget next summer.

The board of education on Monday evening approved a nearly $495 million budget for fiscal year 2022 — which is partially based on state funding calculated by enrollment numbers.

Shawnee Mission will formally make an enrollment count for all grades on Sept. 20, per state law, Knapp said. That will be the number that will impact state funding in coming years.

Knapp said it is possible more students could be added through Labor Day and be included on the Sept. 20 count.

Key quote: “We just kind of thought there would be a good rebound after the pandemic year, kids staying home or being home schooled [in 2020-21], and they would return,” Knapp said to the board while explaining the 2021 enrollment projections.