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updated: 5/12/2014 5:09 AM

U-46 to consider school closings, boundary changes

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  • This fifth-grade general education class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin has 34 students. According to a report this month from the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee, Hillcrest is one of two schools in the district over capacity.

       This fifth-grade general education class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin has 34 students. According to a report this month from the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee, Hillcrest is one of two schools in the district over capacity.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin is over capacity, according to the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee. A report issued by the committee earlier this week lists 10 other schools that are underutilized.

       Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin is over capacity, according to the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee. A report issued by the committee earlier this week lists 10 other schools that are underutilized.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Jacqlina Perez, 11, a fifth-grader at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin, is one of 34 students in her general education class. According to a report this month from the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee, Hillcrest is one of two schools in the district over capacity.

       Jacqlina Perez, 11, a fifth-grader at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin, is one of 34 students in her general education class. According to a report this month from the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee, Hillcrest is one of two schools in the district over capacity.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin is one of the district's overcrowded schools, according to the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee. A report issued by the committee earlier this week lists 10 other schools that are underutilized.

       Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin is one of the district's overcrowded schools, according to the Elgin Area School District U-46 Citizens' Advisory Committee. A report issued by the committee earlier this week lists 10 other schools that are underutilized.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Substitute teacher Sue Burke leads fifth-grade students through math problems at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin. The school district's Citizens' Advisory Committee presented a report last week on future enrollment, and Hillcrest was deemed over capacity.

       Substitute teacher Sue Burke leads fifth-grade students through math problems at Hillcrest Elementary School in Elgin. The school district's Citizens' Advisory Committee presented a report last week on future enrollment, and Hillcrest was deemed over capacity.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Elgin Area School District U-46 officials once again will be considering boundary changes, and perhaps even school closings, as student enrollment declines in some elementary schools, while others are increasingly overcrowded.

The U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council's Enrollment and Facilities Committee last week presented a report to the school board on future enrollment trends and use of facilities.

The report identified 10 elementary schools that are underutilized, with 114 classrooms currently empty, and 12 more schools headed in that direction. That could significantly impact boundaries and lead to potential school closings, said Sue Kerr, co-chair of the committee.

The elementary schools with declining enrollment primarily are in the southeastern parts of the district, including parts of Bartlett, Carol Stream, Elgin, Hanover Park, Streamwood and Wayne.

"We're seeing the district as a whole fairly stable, but there's parts of it where enrollment is declining and other sections where it's going up," Kerr said.

According to the report, two elementary schools are over capacity, with more than 95 percent utilization -- Hillcrest in Elgin and Lincoln in Hoffman Estates. Three elementary schools need to be monitored because they could exceed capacity in the future -- Hillcrest (which is projected to reach beyond 100 percent capacity), Century Oaks and Creekside, all in Elgin.

Overcrowding in some schools can be attributed to certain programs, such as special education and English Language Learners, Kerr said.

The solution is not as simple as merely moving students from over capacity schools to less crowded facilities.

"Our two most overutilized buildings at this point sit next to each other boundarywise," Kerr said. "And the underutilized ones sit on the opposite side of the district."

The district's enrollment is projected to remain above 40,000 students through the 2018-2019 school year. However, enrollment has declined from 41,453 students in 2009-10 to 40,667 students this year -- a reduction of 786 students, Enrollment decreased by 123 students from 2012-13 to 2013-14.

It's a complete turnaround from what the district was faced with in the 1990s, when an explosion of housing growth led to a swell of students and construction of new school buildings, including Kenyon Woods Middle School and South Elgin High School.

"Between 1994 and 2001, the district grew by 8,000 kids, which is incredible," Kerr said. "The last few years have been very stable compared to what we had back then."

Kerr attributes the enrollment declines to an aging population and a lack of new families moving into the area due to economic reasons.

"The kids are just getting older so the elementary schools are certainly seeing that impact," she said. "A lot of those subdivisions are aging and projected to go down almost 100 kids in the next five years."

A short-term solution would be to add mobile classrooms in schools that are overcrowded. The district has 29 mobile classrooms at several elementary schools, and four mobile classrooms at South Elgin High School. There are no mobile classrooms at any of the district's eight middle schools.

Though closing schools is a "hugely sensitive issue," it would likely be on the table, Kerr said.

"We are going to be looking at boundaries starting next year," she added. "We're looking at not just elementary, but also middle school and high school to see if there need to be any adjustments made."

The district has hired a demographer to make recommendations about boundary changes and other potential solutions, which will be reviewed by the Enrollment and Facilities Committee this fall.

The committee will then work with district administration, and gather public input before making its recommendations to the school board, Kerr said.

Any boundary changes would go into effect in the 2016-17 school year, she added.

"We want to get as many people involved as possible, and get as many different opinions," Kerr said.

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