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On Feb. 8 at a Board Finance Committee meeting, School District 65 Board members opened a discussion on how to manage increasing enrollment in several of the District’s schools. Over the next five years, the District’s enrollment is projected to increase by about 600 students, about 400 of whom would be at the K-5 grade levels. The District anticipates space issues will arise at Willard, Dewey and possibly other schools.

Given the economic climate, including projected deficits totaling $30 million over the next five years (see story on page 23), Board members had little appetite for constructing new space, renting mobile classrooms, or addressing the issue in a way that would increase the District’s operating expenses.

Some ideas on the table to manage overcrowding include increasing class sizes above the recommended guidelines, transferring programs from schools that are overcrowded, and capping enrollment at overcrowded schools and transferring students in excess of the cap to magnet schools or schools in adjoining attendance areas.

A Feb. 12 memo prepared by Lora Taira, assistant director of information services, provides some additional details concerning the proposed options to manage increased student enrollment, and it lays out the impact on individual schools. See accompanying sidebar. The Board was scheduled to continue discussing these issues at its Feb. 16 meeting, after this paper went to press. Parents from Willard planned to oppose the cap and transfer strategy at that meeting.

Enrollment Projections 

John D. Kasarda, Ph.D., a consulting demographer, projected enrollment at District 65 using three different scenarios, each of which assumed different rates of housing turnover in the next ten years. In what he viewed as the most likely scenario, he projects that District 65’s K-8 enrollment will be 7,009 students in five years (2014-15), an increase of 603 students over this year. At the K-5 grade levels, he projects that enrollment will increase by 396 students. In ten years, he projects District 65’s K-8 will be 7,176 students, an increase of 770 students over this year.

School District 65 administrators have projected a smaller increase than Dr. Kasarda. The District projects its K-8 enrollment will be 6,731 in five years, 278 students fewer than projected by Dr. Kasarda.

Dr. Kasarda also projected the growth at each school, which he was quick to say was subject to more uncertainty than his District-wide projections. He projected that the largest increases would be at Willard (79 students), Dewey (64 students), Washington (47 students), Haven (180 students), and Nichols (95 students). A table on page 23 shows the breakdown by school.

A separate report presented by Valerie S. Kretchmer Associates, Inc., said home buyers with children are willing to pay more for homes in the Willard and Kingsley attendance areas, and that realtors have seen increased interest in the Dewey and Washington attendance areas.

Building Capacity

The Board also considered a building capacity report prepared by ARCON, consulting architects, that assessed on a detailed basis the amount of classroom, administrative and other space at each school.

ARCON estimated the capacity at each school using three different scenarios. In each scenario ARCON assumed that the average class size would be 25.5 students, which is the average class size permitted under the District’s class size guidelines. This year the average class size is about 20 students. Under ARCON’s scenarios, two schools, Willard and Dewey, would lack classroom space to accommodate the increased enrollments projected for those schools, even assuming an average of 25.5 students per classroom. 

ARCON was not asked to assess when and where stress points might arise at other schools if the Board decides to maintain class sizes at levels lower than those permitted under the District’s guidelines. On a District-wide basis, if 400 new K-5 students were spread out evenly among the District’s core curriculum K-5 classrooms, class size would increase by an average of about 1.8 students per class.

It appears, though, the strategies under consideration will not increase class sizes uniformly throughout the District. Rather, the strategies may substantially increase the size of classes at particular grade levels at the schools where they are implemented. Class sizes at the particular grade levels impacted could increase from 25 students at kindergarten to 29 at fourth and fifth grade. See sidebar. The proposed strategies have other impacts as well.

Proposals to Manage Enrollment

District 65 administrators conclude that Willard will need two additional classrooms and Dewey and Lincolnwood will each need one additional classroom to accommodate increased enrollment for the 2010-11 school year. One short-term plan is to use the staff lounge and the art room at Willard as classrooms, to use an art room at Dewey and to use an art room or a special education classroom at Lincolnwood as classrooms.

While this will address the classroom needs next year, Willard and Dewey are projected to need additional classrooms in the 2011-12 school year.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the administration had put together a list of potential ways to manage increasing student enrollment on a longer-term basis. Mary Brown, chief financial officer, summarized these options:

· continue to use the magnet schools, TWI programs, and permissive transfers to draw students from overcrowded schools;

· increase class sizes above the recommended class size guidelines;

· cap school enrollments, and transfer students enrolling after capacity has been reached to magnet schools, or other schools sharing an attendance area boundary that has available space;

· rent mobile classrooms, convert school auditoriums into classroom space, or build additional classrooms.

– move special programs to another school; and,

· build a new school.

Dr. Murphy said, “We could manage, at least in the near future – surely for two to three years, maybe as many as five – the enrollments in this District by applying some of these procedural changes.”

 Adding New Space

In light of the economy and the District’s financial situation, members of the Board expressed no interest in converting auditoriums into classrooms, renting mobile classrooms or building new classrooms.

Andy Pigozzi said, “I think the biggest thing in my view in moving forward is we’re in a situation financially where we cannot, absolutely cannot, increase our operational expenditures. The economy is still going to drag at the bottom for the remainder of 2010. … School districts tend to lag one year behind a recovery.

“I want to avoid at all costs the scenario where we are losing jobs, where we are hemorrhaging staff. I am going to be supportive of any solution that utilizes the staff that we currently have, with supports, whether it is an increase in class size or drawing a line, creating a lottery of some sort giving people a strong incentive to go to a magnet school.”

Katie Bailey, chair of the Finance Committee, said, “I agree with Andy that I don’t want to add any operational dollars. … We don’t want to add classrooms because it increases operating expenses. If we can manage enrollment [through some other means], we don’t want to increase classrooms.”

Tracy Quattrocki referred to a schedule in Dr. Kasarda’s report that reflected that ten years ago the K-8 enrollment of District 65 was 6,912 students, 506 students more than the current enrollment. According to the District’s report card, the average class size at that time was about 19.5 students.

“When we talked about adding space to a school, I thought we were at a high for at least the last 15 years, and when I look at our numbers, we’re not quite there,” Ms. Quattrocki said. “Given the economy, I don’t think we should put another addition on a school when we’re not as high as we were 10 years ago.”

Jerome Summers advocated for establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward, which ARCON estimated would cost about $9 million. He received no support from other Board members.

Moving TWI to Another School

Ms. Bailey asked whether the TWI program could be moved from Willard to Kingsley, which would draw some children away from Willard to Kingsley. While asking the question, she noted that would only partially address the overcrowding issue at Willard.

Dr. Murphy argued against a transfer of the program, saying one goal in the District’s strategic plan was to maintain the continuity of programs at the school at which they were located. He also said TWI parents who resided in the Willard Island (a non-contiguous part of the Willard attendance area that is located near the high school) should have the right to attend Willard school.

Ms. Quattrocki floated the idea of relocating the TWI programs currently at Willard and Dewey schools to King Lab. “Both Dewey and Willard are going to be overcrowded, and if you could make King Lab more of a language school you might kill three birds with one stone,” she said. She added that having two strands of TWI at King Lab would provide the District additional flexibility in managing student enrollment.

Assistant Superintendent Sue Schultz argued against placing two strands of TWI at a school, saying it would draw twice as many English Language Learners to the school and push the school over the minimum required to create a subgroup subject to the AYP requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. She said while the TWI program was generating excellent results, many children in the third- or fourth-grades have not yet acquired the English language skills necessary to do well on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test. Placing two strands of TWI at a school may in effect cause that school to miss the AYP requirements of NCLB, she said.

Cap and Transfer

Dr. Murphy explained some preliminary thoughts about the cap and transfer option. A school’s enrollment would be capped, and students enrolling after capacity has been reached would be assigned to a magnet school or other school sharing an attendance area boundary and that had available space. He said the option could be phased in starting at the kindergarten level, so it would not impact students currently attending a school.

He gave an example using this year’s kindergarten class at Willard, which has three kindergarten classes serving 53 students. Assuming the District decided to have two kindergarten classes with 23 students in each class (the maximum under current guidelines), there would be space at Willard for 46 kindergarten students. Under the cap and transfer option, seven kindergartners would be assigned to a magnet school or Lincolnwood or Kingsley, he said.

Dr. Murphy said, “If we apply the cap and redirect students to a magnet school, it will help us whenever we have a school down the line that has a stress point.” Paul Brinson, chief information officer, said, “By using the classrooms we have and managing enrollment, we can manage the enrollment across the District.” Lora Taira said this was a practice at other large school districts.

Kim Weaver said imposing a cap on student enrollment and sending kids to other schools would not cost money. She said she liked that option. She added that the Board should also talk about moving programs, “even though we don’t want to move them.”

Several Willard parents raised concerns about the cap and transfer option saying it would penalize some parents who wanted to go to their neighborhood school. One parent said if a family bought a home in the Willard attendance area with the expectation that their children would attend Willard School, the cap would create a problem.

Dr. Murphy said, “I understand your point that this could be an unpopular decision.” He added, though, that the only decision that would satisfy all parents would be to add classroom space to a building.

Ms. Quattrocki said capping enrollment was a type of redistricting. She said redrawing boundary lines may be less arbitrary and more transparent than adopting the cap and transfer option.

Another potential issue is that the option may have the effect of increasing over time the class sizes at Willard and Dewey. Under the proposal as outlined in Ms. Taira’s Feb. 12 memo, kindergarten classes may be as high as 25 students, before a transfer requirement is triggered.

Ms. Bailey said, “The capping idea is just sitting on the table, and it’s something we’ve got to talk about. We have to consider the implications.” At a later point in the discussion, she said, “The impact could be huge.”

Check the RoundTable’s online edition for an updated story on the Board’s continued discussion of these issues at its Feb. 16 meeting.

The table below gives the current enrollment at School District 65’s schools and the projected increase or decrease in enrollment by the 2014-15 school year. The projections were made by Dr. John D. Kasarda.             

Willard               393         + 79

Dewey                430         + 64

Washington        470         + 47

Lincoln               316          +38

Walker               298         + 34

Lincolnwood        430          +30

King Lab             533          +30

Kingsley              366          +19

Bessie Rhodes     358           +9

Dawes                 350          + 5

Orrington             338           – 1

Oakton                402         – 10

 

Haven                  621       +180

Nichols                 502         +95

Chute                   532        – 41

Impact of Cap and Transfer and Increasing Class Size on Individual Schools

After the Feb. 8 Finance Committee meeting, Lora Taira, assistant director of information services at School District 65,  prepared a Feb. 12 memo to Superintendent Hardy Murphy that provides additional details on three proposed strategies to manage projected increases in student enrollment: 1) capping class size enrollment and transferring students in excess of the cap to other schools; 2) increasing the size of classes permitted under the District’s guidelines; and 3) a combination of items 2 and 3. The memo also lays out the impact of the various strategies on individual schools. 

The School Board is scheduled to discuss this memo and ways to manage student enrollment at its Feb. 16 meeting.  

Cap and Transfer: Ms. Taira’s memo says the proposed cap and transfer option would apply to incoming kindergartners and students who are new to the attendance area. It would not apply to students who are already attending their attendance area school. After a student comples registration for an attendance area school, the registration materials would be time and date stamped to note priority of position. If enrollments in grade level classes in a school are at the class size guidelines, families would be given an option to transfer, but would not be required to transfer. If enrollments exceed the class size guidelines by two students, students in excess of that cap would be transferred to another school. Parents of a child who is required to transfer would be given an option of a magnet school and an adjacent attendance area school if there is space in the school. 

Ms. Taira’s memo projects that if this option were approved by the Board, it would impact kindergarten classes at Dewey, Lincolnwood, Washington and Willard schools in the 2010-11 school year, and that 28 students would be impacted in the first year. 

Increasing Class Size Guidelines: The maximum class sizes provided for under the current guidelines range from 23 students at kindergarten to 27 at fourth and fifth grades. See accompanying table. One proposed option is to increase the class size guidelines by one, two or three students. Ms. Taira’s memo projects that if the Board increased the class size guidelines by 2 students, that the District would be able to increase the size of the classes at eight grade levels in four different schools, and in so doing eliminate the need for a total of eight classrooms. 

For example, under current policies, Kingsley is projected to have three third-grade classes next year, with 18 students in each classroom. If class size guidelines are increased by two students, Kingsley is projected to have two third-grade classes with 27 students in each classroom. 

The schools projected to be impacted under this scenario are:  Kingsley would lose one classroom each at the third and fifth grade levels; Lincolnwood would lose one classroom each at the first and fifth grade levels; Oakton would lose one classroom at the third grade level; and Orrington would lose one classroom each at the kindergarten, fourth and fifth grade levels. Under this scenario, the average class sizes at the grade levels impacted at these schools would range from 24 to 29 students. 

Combining Both Strategies: A third proposed option is to implement the cap and transfer option and increase the class size guidelines. Ms. Taira’s memo says if the cap and transfer option were adopted and if the class size guidelines were increased by two students, 12 students would need to be transferred to other schools in 2010-11. 

Depending on the particular option selected, Ms. Taira’s memo says these options will reduce the number of teachers and classrooms needed by between three to 13 teachers in the 2010-11 school year.

 

Current Average Class Sizes.

The table below gives the average class sizes for this year and the maximum number permitted under the District’s class size guidelines.

                  D65          D65 Guidline

  1. K      19.5               23
  2. 1      21.3               25
  3. 2      18.6               25
  4. 3      20.0               26
  5. 4      20.3               27
  6. 5      20.1               27