Enrollment at Oswego School District 308 schools is predicted to decrease by 400 students over the next five years.
Robert Schwarz, CEO of RSP & Associates, an education planning firm based in Kansas, presented his firm's enrollment projections to the District 308 Board of Education during a meeting conducted remotely Tuesday, June 8.
"Enrollment projections are something we keep a continuous eye on as they affect our staffing, as well as what our capacity looks like for each of our (District) 308 schools," Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin said.
The district serves a 68.8 square mile area in Kendall, Will and Kane counties and operates 13 elementary schools, five junior high schools and two high schools. The schools are located in Oswego, Aurora, Montgomery, Plainfield and the unincorporated Boulder Hill subdivision. With just over 18,000 students, the district is currently the seventh largest district in Illinois.
Attendance boundaries for each of the district's schools were last changed four years ago.
According to Schwarz, enrollment changes are the result of the district's birth rate, demographics, types of incoming development, affordability and "location neutral trends."
"Some of this is related to a lag in development, the aging of demographics in your households and whatnot," he told the board.
The coronavirus pandemic has also factored into projections, he said, as shutdowns, furloughs and layoffs can affect enrollment, as well as how students return to the classroom.
Schwarz projected a decrease of 400 students in the district as a whole over the next five years. At the elementary level, he projected an increase of 100 students over five years, a decrease of 400 students at the junior high level, and a decrease of about 50 students at the district's two high schools.
Baseline data showing five consecutive years of kindergarten enrollment lower than 1,200 students, and senior classes larger than incoming kindergarten classes helped RSP to determine the projected drop in enrollment, Schwarz said.
If all planned housing developments happen within a "reasonable timeframe," Schwarz projected future kindergarten enrollment would hover between 1,100 and 1,200 students.
Several communities in the district are also yielding fewer students than they did 10 years previously, also helping to affect the decline in enrollment. The influx of multi-family and single-family homes can also impact enrollment and where development is occurring in the district, he said.
Instructional capacity challenges were also highlighted, specifically at Fox Chase Elementary School, Grande Park Elementary School, Lakewood Creek Elementary School, Long Beach Elementary School, Southbury Elementary School, and Traughber Junior High School. Each of the elementary schools, Schwarz said, will hit its capacity by the 2024-2025 school year, while Traughber will hit its capacity by the 2022-2023 school year.
Instructional capacity, he told the board, is the appropriate amount of space at a school to accommodate student programming needs. Capacity was determined, he said, by the district's determination of a school's capacity, the amount of students who reside in a school's boundary, the amount of students who attend that building, and the amount of students who actually reside in that school's boundary and attend that school.
"It's all directly related to what's feeding into those buildings," Schwarz said.
Schwarz was also careful to clarify in his presentation that projections only serve as part of the district's process in determining if a new school is needed.
"The goal of this study is to help the board, administration and public understand how to make the best decisions for the students who are in each classroom," the presentation read.
Looking to the future, Schwarz encouraged the district to study enrollment data on an annual basis and to utilize the enrollment models when determining staffing at schools.
Board member Toni Morgan questioned Schwarz about how to gauge parent reaction to the enrollment data and potential attendance boundary changes.
Schwarz encouraged the district to engage parents, possibly with a survey, to determine if there are any problems at specific buildings that could be changed.
Board member Brent Lightfoot clarified with Schwarz that capacity projections are determined as schools are "currently configured, given the programs that are in that building."
"I think it would be informative, for the board to also have the actual building capacity listed," Lightfoot said, so that the board could take those numbers into account, when determining if a program needs to move to another building. "I think it would be better for us to see at a macro level, what total real capacity is across these buildings."
Other districts that RSP works with, Schwarz said, report instructional capacity, but also clarify why programs are placed in certain buildings.
Board President Lauri Doyle stated that in prior years when the board reports capacity numbers they did include special programs in each school, capacity in each classroom, number of classrooms and other data points.
Doyle asked where the district's pre-kindergarten programs and services for 18-22 year-olds are in the data.
While those data points are not shown, Schwarz said that Pre-K is used to determine kindergarten enrollment.