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U-46 enrollment data reveals largest loss ever

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 has suffered its greatest hit enrollment declines in the 2020-2021 school year.
  At its Nov. 2 meeting, held electronically due to COVID-19 regulations, the Board of Education was presented with this year’s numbers which showed a loss of 1,391 students (3.7 percent) from 38,014 to 36,623.
  The loss is nearly triple what the district projected to lose in this year’s budget which expected a loss of 483 students.
  Since 2014, enrollment has declined from 40,487, a loss of 3,856, and the trend is expected to continue. Prior to this year, a loss of 634 students in 2018 was the largest decline.
  “I don’t see it changing course…. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up down around 32,000 to 33,000 students once this cohort size makes its all the way through all of our grade levels,” said Jeff King, deputy superintendent of operations.
  “The whole state of Illinois is down in enrollment the last couple of years,” Superintendent Tony Sanders said and claimed U-46’s loss is “about the same as large districts across the state.”
  The largest losses this year came at the elementary level, a loss of 1,037 students, and early childhood, a loss of 270. No elementary school saw significant gains while nine saw declines of over 40, led by South Elgin’s Fox Meadow (73) and Elgin’s Lords Park (72).
  Central programs, like the Dream Academy, saw a loss of 110 while middle schools hemorrhaged 123 total students with seven of eight schools losing students. Streamwood’s Tefft Middle School did increase by 98 while Bartlett’s Eastview Middle School saw the largest loss, 56.
  High schools added 39 total students. Elgin (63) and Larkin (55) saw the largest gains while three schools lost students.
  Since 2016-2017, every grade level from pre-kindergarten through seventh grade has lost students with particularly high drops in third and fifth grade, both dropping by 551. Eighth, ninth and 11th grades saw modest gains (averaging 21) but there’s been a net loss of 99 students between eighth and 12th grade.
  King said kindergarten through fifth “has dropped by almost 400 students per grade level over the past five to six years.” He said “early childhood tends to build as we go through a normal school year,” but “I’m not sure we’ll build up to what’s last year’s number was” because of COVID-19.
  The district expects lower elementary numbers to start hitting the middle and high school levels in coming years.
  King said he thinks there’s been “some loss because of COVID and people converting to private schools, and the charter school” when asked by board member Melissa Owens. He said the district believes it lost 100 students this year to the charter school.
  Sue Kerr, the board’s president, asked about hospital births which King said the district uses a Canadian third-party which provides updated 10-year projections each year. King said rates have been “down for almost seven years in Illinois,” but “births have kind of leveled off” in recent years.
  Elementary building utilization, which King said is “based on the number of seats that are available,” showed that 52 percent (21 buildings) are between 66 and 81 percent utilization and 35 percent (14) are 50 to 65 percent. Three schools, 8 percent, are 82 to 97 percent utilization and two schools (Wayne and Bartlett’s Prairieview), 5 percent, are below 50 percent utilization.
  The district is currently going through a facility audit and King said current evaluations suggest no new money should be spent on some buildings which rather should be closed. King said: “I think you’re going to see a few of those.”
  “The problem is where some of those buildings exist,” King said. “We don’t have room to move kids. All of our room is essentially the southeast, and you can’t take kids on that long of a bus ride.”

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