U-46 to study enrollment declines, possible school closings
Closing schools is never an easy conversation with parents, students, teachers and staff members.
But it's one officials at the state's second-largest school district serving more than 40,000 students might need to have in the near future.
Elgin Area School District U-46 Chief Executive Officer Tony Sanders said recently several factors might force the district to consider closing elementary schools -- namely underutilization of buildings due to declining enrollment, the possibility of losing students to a proposed charter school, and potential shortfalls in state funding.
Sanders said the district's Citizens' Advisory Council and demographer will work on revising a 2014 report on future enrollment projections and use of facilities starting next school year.
The CAC Enrollment and Facilities Committee's 2014 report identified 10 elementary schools that are underutilized, with 114 classrooms empty, and 12 more schools headed in that direction. Elementary schools with declining enrollment primarily were in the southeastern parts of the district, including parts of Bartlett, Carol Stream, Elgin, Hanover Park, Streamwood and Wayne.
"We're going to have to look at the long-term viability of the district," Sanders said. "I'm not trying to alarm our communities. It's something we need to look at."
Though closing schools isn't a foregone conclusion, it won't happen without boundary changes, he said.
The last time U-46 closed schools and redrew boundaries, nearly 10,000 students were reshuffled to different buildings.
In 2004, U-46 shuttered Illinois Park Elementary in west Elgin and Woodland Heights Elementary in Streamwood as a result of redrawn boundaries for 48 elementary and middle schools based on demographic projections of enrollment declines in the neighborhoods feeding those schools.
The district's most recent boundary changes adopted in 2015 also were controversial even though no schools were closed.
The changes affected 566 students in 13 of the district's 40 elementary schools who were moved to new buildings this school year to alleviate overcrowding at several schools and accommodate full-day kindergarten districtwide.
"We could have closed one or two (schools) at that time," Sanders said. "Full-day kindergarten did use up additional space in those schools."
Yet, schools in Bartlett, Carol Stream and Wayne remain underused, he said.
"Is enrollment projected to increase or ... still projected to decline?" Sanders said. "The charter school would put a greater pressure (on underutilized schools)."
If U-46 approves the contract, the proposed Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school would open in August 2018 with 200 students in kindergarten through third grade. Another grade would be added each year, eventually offering classes through eighth grade for up to 450 students.
But the charter group wants flexibility to go up to 600 students.
Sanders said if the charter school draws primarily from the Elgin area, it would help alleviate crowding at some Elgin schools that are at capacity.
"But if students from Elgin do not go and it draws from Wayne, Carol Stream and Hanover Park, it will put some additional pressure on them," he said.
District officials have suggested the charter group use an underutilized U-46 school instead of its chosen site -- the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave. in Elgin.
"It's not an option they want," Sanders said. "Anytime you open a new school, it will cost resources. And it's not a dollar-for-dollar swap."