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Growth numbers fall in D-300

CARPENTERSVILLE – During the referendum campaign in spring 2006, District 300 officials estimated that 7,200 more students would attend its schools in the next five years.

Now, just nine months after the ballot measures passed, the most liberal new figures project that growth at about 3,880, a 46 percent decrease.

“Monday-morning quarterback is an easy game to play,” said District 300 Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates of the discrepancy.

“Why would we lie?” she asked.

But at least one district critic said they had 185 million reasons to bend the truth to pass the March referendums, while officials said the discrepancy was due to the unpredictability of the housing market.

The consulting company Ehlers and Associates compiles two sets of growth figures for the district every few years. The first set, or scenario one, is more conservative, using enrollment history as a guide for predicting growth. Scenario two, however, uses “residential construction presumed to be occurring at an accelerated pace and volume.”

Using the second scenario, the 2005 enrollment study showed an increase of 7,200 students from the 2004-05 school year to the 2009-10 year. The 2006 study’s second scenario indicates 3,321 fewer students than the previous year’s projections.

The more conservative scenario from the 2005 study pegged five-year growth at 2,108 students, with the updated 2006 conservative figure coming in at 2,188 – an increase of 80 students.

“They took the worst-case scenario and used it as the projection,” said Larry Snow, a District 158 School Board member who questioned the figures before the March referendum came to a vote.

“District 300’s board and administrators wanted the media and public to believe that there was a student enrollment population explosion crisis of 7,200 students looming on the immediate horizon,” Snow added. “There wasn't.”

Advance 300, a group formed to help pass the $185 million building bond and 55-cent tax-increase referendums, still has a graph showing the 7,200 enrollment growth figure. Crates gave $450 to the group in February; Superintendent Kenneth Arndt gave $900; and Chuck Bumbales, assistant superintendent of operations and planning, donated $300, state campaign finance records show.

And while referendum backers touted the higher enrollment predictions when campaigning, Crates used the smaller figures when looking at the district’s five-year financial forecast Tuesday. Crates gave the Community Finance Committee a document prepared by PMA Financial Network, Inc., titled “Financial Planing Program, Enrollment/Staff Assumptions,” Tuesday that used the smaller enrollment data to predict state aid up to 2012.

“We just chose to use [the lower projections,]” Crates said Wednesday. “We just put our best guess together.”

Crates and Bumbales said District 300 does the best it can to predict enrollment.

“The housing market has really, really, really slowed down,” Bumbales said. “And developers have pushed back building housing units.”

“I can’t predict housing starts,” Crates added.

That growth still will come to District 300, Bumbales said, just later than expected.

“We are very confident that every one of those developers will build,” he said.

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