LOS LUNAS — Los Lunas Schools has seen a dip in enrollment so far during the 2020-21 school year, and it may have much to do with the current pandemic, said acting superintendent Walter Gibson.
The decrease in enrollment in the district is at 422 students from the previous school year, according to public records obtained by the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
The count given to the News-Bulletin is that of the 40-day count, but the numbers haven’t been finalized as of yet by the New Mexico Public Education Department, Gibson said. PED has 40-day counts, 80-day counts, 120-day counts, and end-of-year counts for school districts statewide — and those numbers determine the money a district receives in future school years.
Gibson said the majority who have disenrolled this school year are entirely younger students around the district.
“They are exclusively elementary kids,” Gibson said when asked where the number of students enrolled was most impacted. “Our middle schools and high schools numbers are actually up.”
And the areas in which students have disenrolled, Gibson said, are in wealthier areas “closer to I-25.”
“My analysis of it is that those people have choices that people on the east side — in some of our more remote communities with more poverty — don’t have,” Gibson said.
The numbers obtained by the News-Bulletin go back to the 2016-17 school year, and are all recorded 40-day counts as well. While the numbers fluctuated mildly, this school year showed a significant drop.
For example, the 40-day count in 2016 was at 8,343, and in the following school year it was at 8,400. From 2018-19 to 2019-20, the 40-day count dropped in enrollment by 76 students.
The Albuquerque Journal reported in mid-October that homeschooling in Los Lunas Schools went up from just 358 students the previous school year to 503 this year.
That’s something Gibson acknowledged, saying many school districts in New Mexico have seen some sort of decrease in numbers so far this year.
“We think a lot of people chose either home-schooling or an online school,”Gibson said. “And my suspicion is when this is all over — and when we can say COVID is in our past — that they’ll come back.”
Gibson, though, said if those 422 students don’t come back, the district stands to lose money — about $3 million or more. It’s the hope of superintendents across the state, however, that their respective districts won’t be penalized for lower enrollment numbers, Gibson said.
“This has been a really well run district financially. We have some reserve funds that if the state doesn’t come in and gobble it up, we’ll be OK for a while,” Gibson said. “This year we’re fine. But next year if the state doesn’t do what they would call holding harmless districts and base enrollment on not what we see going forward, but what we’ve seen in the past and what we expect to see again… If that doesn’t happen, then we would have to make some serious cuts.”