Enrollment in the Lodi School District has been in decline the last 10 years or so. That could soon change.
At the July 12 school board meeting, results from an Applied Population Lab study were presented by Sarah Kemp, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin-Madison group.
“Just because you’ve been decreasing, though, doesn’t mean you’re going to be continuing that trend,” said Kemp.
According to the study, districtwide enrollment is projected to increase by 83 to 128 students over the next five years and average 7.2% in growth.
Kemp has been with the UW’s Applied Population Lab since the mid-1990s. She has twice done studies of Lodi’s enrollment in that time, the last one coming five years ago. That one, Kemp said, underpredicted the district’s growth.
According to Kemp, the two key components of the study are births in the district and kindergarten growth.
In the enrollment projections process, research looked at how district enrollment is changing, whether the kindergarten population is declining or growing, have births changed over time and general population and housing development trends.
Since the 2011-12 school year, Lodi’s enrollment has dropped from 1,598 to 1,492 students for a 6.6% decrease. During that stretch, the biggest decline has come in grades 9-12, where a 16% drop has been reported. Decreases were also identified in grades 3-5 (4.4%) and grades 6-8 (11%).
There is cause for optimism, however, as the district has experienced an increase of 10.6% in grades 4K-2 over that same period. Kemp said the last two years have seen a rise in kindergarten enrollment, and in looking at the last seven years, births in the district have only slightly declined.
Meanwhile, in-migration to the district appears to be growing. On average, Kemp said single-family construction averaged 41 new homes annually over the last five years. School Board President H. Adam Steinberg wondered how housing in the district could keep up with the demand.
“How many new homes can we build over the next 10 years?” asked Steinberg.
Kemp also explained how COVID-19 impacted the study, as the study used a three-year trend model instead of a two-year trend model. She said the pandemic caused enrollments in districts all around the country to drop. Enrollment for 2020-21 was modified to include returning students.
Brent Richter, business manager for the Lodi School District, said the school registrar tracked every child in the district and asked if they were returning. That was how the district was able to realize that all were coming back, said Richter.
For this study, Kemp used the grade progression ratio method, which laid out average ratios for 10-, five- and three-year increments. The school board had to choose which one to adopt for the district. By a 6-0 vote, the board went with the five-year ratio.
It was determined that 42-45% of children born in the district enter Lodi’s four-year-old kindergarten program.
Looking at future trends, Kemp reported on the 7.2% average growth for district enrollment and the potential increase of 83 to 128 students over the next five years. Kemp broke down the numbers for the board, noting that for grades 4K-2, projections indicate the district could lose as many as 16 students or gain 10, averaging a 0.5% decline.
In grades 3-5, however, the number of students is expected to grow by 35-52 students, for a 12.6%. Increases are also anticipated in grades 6-8 (5%) and grades 9-12 (11.6%).
“So, for someone in my position, this is phenomenally good news,” said Richter, “because it ties directly into revenues that come back to the district.”
Richter explained that a swing of just 10 students, as a decrease or increase, could have an impact of $100,000 to the district.
District Administrator Vince Breunig viewed the projections in a positive light, explaining that it indicated the district could experience slow growth.
“Which is what the district needs – slow, steady growth,” said Breunig.
School Board Vice President Angela Lathrop also cautioned that the projections didn’t mean any new school construction was coming. They simply were connected to the district’s finances.