The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Declining enrollment, an ongoing U-46 trend
By Seth Hancock
School District U-46 continues to see declining trends in enrollment which it expects to continue into the future.
In November, the administration presented the 2018 enrollment data to the Board of Education which showed a total loss of 633 students (39,205 to 38,572) from 2017. It was the fourth straight year with a decline, and the largest single-year drop during that span, and U-46 has now lost 1,915 total students since 40,487 in 2014.
Jeff King, deputy superintendent of operations, said this year’s decline was “a little bit larger” with the new charter school which he estimated a loss of 120 to 140 students to.
According to the state’s report card data, during that time frame spending has increased nearly $100 million from $460 million in 2014 to this year’s budgeted $558.1 million, over $70 million faster than the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. Academic results have also lagged behind the state and seen drops during that time according to the report card.
However, U-46 Tony Sanders justified the trends by telling the board to “remember” that the amount of low-income students and English learners has increased since 2007 and the district has a high number of special education students.
“Students don’t just show up at our doorstep with $10,900 to say ‘here, go spend this on me however you see fit,’” Sanders said. “More, it’s actually the converse. We get whatever the amount we get from state and local revenues and we endeavor to meet their needs to the best of our abilities.”
Sanders added: “I say that to remind the board, when we’re saying we want to meet the needs of all our kids… we are here to really meet the needs of every single student who comes into our folds of U-46 and becomes a part of our family.”
U-46 spends $18,662 per student between operational and instructional spending according to the state data.
The district saw its biggest declines at the elementary level, a total loss of 626 students, with declines at 32 of 40 schools. No school saw an increase over 40 while six saw a loss greater than 40, Lords Park in Elgin seeing the largest decline of 73 students.
“We’ve seen much of this coming for several years,” King said. “The birthrates in Illinois significantly declined between 2008 and 2014, and we’re seeing that in our cohort grade levels at the lower levels.”
At the middle school level, U-46 lost 147 students. Kimball in Elgin saw an increase of 42 students while four of the remaining seven middle schools lost over 40 with Kenyon Woods in South Elgin seeing the largest drop at 73.
High school enrollment increased by one student, no school seeing a significant change, while the number of private placement (i.e. Center House, Dream Academy) increased by 152 and early childhood enrollment by 57.
The total enrollment decline King attributed largely to birthrates but “the other piece is how slow the housing market recovered, especially for the homes that are valued $300,000 or more. We haven’t seen as much turnover in those types of neighborhoods that I think in previous history we have noticed.”
King said that the district expects the enrollment decline trend to continue “at least for the next couple years,” and there are expected to be drops at the high school level soon.
The vast majority, 89 percent, of U-46 classrooms have a lower student to teacher ratio than the district’s staffing standards while 4 percent are at the standard and 7 percent are over.
King said “we are down on an average basis,” and “our class size at every level have been getting smaller.”
The vast majority of buildings are underutilized according to the data with 47 percent at 66 to 81 percent utilization, 35 percent at 50 to 65 percent utilization, 13 percent at 82 to 97 percent utilization and 5 percent at below 50 percent utilization. No schools are over 97 percent utilization.
In response to a question from board member Sue Kerr, King said “the trend has continued” with schools in the southern portion of the district having a lower utilization rate. He said Wayne and Bartlett’s Prairieview elementary schools are the schools under 50 percent utilization.
King also said that boundary changes have had some effect, but “the rest of them are just a loss of student population in the vicinity or boundaries of those schools.”
“Preferably you’d like to have a school somewhere around the 85 percent utilization range,” King said which means at least 87 percent of U-46 buildings are underutilized using that standard.
Board member Jeanette Ward asked: “I would conclude that about 80 percent of our buildings are below the ideal capacity, correct?”
King said that was correct but then dismissed the data meaning the district’s numbers are untrustworthy.
“Right, so let me explain what I used,” King responded. “So that would be assuming that we can fit 28 students per classroom, but in a special-ed classroom it’s 12. So that utilization number doesn’t account for that. The other thing it doesn’t account for is music and art classrooms.”
Board member Melissa Owens asked if dual language or English language learner classrooms were included and King said they were not and claimed “it would probably drive it down a couple of percentage points.” King said those pieces have been previously used in creating the utilization rate and they could be used again, but it does take extra work to include it.
Board member Phil Costello suggested that the increases in early childhood enrollment was a positive sign.
“Of any group that you’d want to see grow, it would be at the lower ends,” Costello said.
King said: “I think it probably speaks more to the staff that’s going out and looking for those students, trying to find them in the community to get them into our programs.”