CRYSTAL LAKE – Slumping enrollment could prompt District 47 to spread out and offer additional programs, but the declines also come with a new set of challenges.
Officials are studying a number of ways to adjust to having fewer students at the district’s 12 Crystal Lake schools.
Projections show enrollment falling by about 1,000 students to 7,300 in the next seven to eight years, according to a recent study.
“We’re expecting to lose a whole school full of kids,” school board Vice President Nancy Gonsiorek said.
The district’s student population peaked in 2005 with 9,124 students. Enrollment for this year stands at 8,359.
Officials are paying close attention to enrollment at Indian Prairie Elementary School, Glacier Ridge Elementary School, South Elementary School and Lundahl Middle School.
Indian Prairie could have 15.4 percent fewer students by the 2015-16 school year, the largest percentage drop of all the schools, according to the study.
Declining enrollment raises concerns for parents, students and teachers.
Administrators plan to look at how possible boundary changes, school closure and staffing reductions can be used to make sure that resources are used efficiently as enrollment shrinks, District 47 Superintendent Donn Mendoza said.
“Nothing will happen next year,” he said. “We are going to be extremely thoughtful and study all of our options.”
That will include looking at issues such as establishing grade-level attendance centers, shifting school boundaries, staffing levels, school capacities and others.
After analyzing a variety of options, Mendoza said
the administration would make a proposal to the school board. Parents and other community members would be able to voice their opinions before a decision is made, he added.
It’s too early in the process to determine whether closing a school is likely.
“That’s extremely premature,” Mendoza said. “It wouldn’t be prudent at this point to say that is being discussed or given more weight than any other option.”
When enrollment was increasing, schools came up with creative ways to get the most out of building space, board member Jeff Mason said. That included turning storerooms into classrooms and assigning some teachers to mobile carts rather than classrooms.
Now, officials can consider options that weren’t possible a few years ago, including offering all-day kindergarten and bringing some special education programs back into the district, Mason said.
“We want to look at how to best utilize our buildings to meet the needs of the students,” he said.
As a veteran board member, Mason said he understood how school closures and boundary changes could affect the community.
Staffing levels will decline with enrollment. For next school year, administrators have planned not to fill positions left by retiring teachers. The result is a net decrease of 22 full-time teaching positions.
Last year, the district signed a nonbinding agreement with the Crystal Lake Education Association, its teacher union, to avoid layoffs if possible.
Mendoza hopes to continue to reduce staffing levels as needed through attrition.
Whatever the course of action, Gonsiorek promised that it wouldn’t be a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“We have the luxury of time to plan for the next five years,” she said.