Why do apartments bring schools more students than expected? Dist. 204 wants to know

  • Superintendent Karen Sullivan said the District 204 population is declining, with roughly 300 fewer students enrolled than at this time last year. But the decline is occurring unevenly.

    Superintendent Karen Sullivan said the District 204 population is declining, with roughly 300 fewer students enrolled than at this time last year. But the decline is occurring unevenly. Daily Herald File Photo, 2014

 
 
Updated 9/12/2019 8:32 PM

When new apartments or townhouses are built in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, the schools often see more new students than expected.

City planners in Naperville and Aurora -- the two major cities that feed the district -- use "generation tables" to predict the number of students who will live at each new subdivision and to charge impact fees accordingly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But those tables often underestimate the number of students who come into the district from multifamily developments, said Jay Strang, chief school business official.

Take two examples of recent construction: Railway Plaza, with 191 one-bedroom and 226 two-bedroom apartments in Naperville, and Lehigh Station, with 264 three-bedroom townhouses in Aurora.

Based on Naperville's generation tables, Railway Plaza was expected to bring 40 new students. District 204's enrollment mapping software shows it brought 211, as of last school year, Strang said.

Lehigh Station was expected to generate 50 new students. It resulted in 191, he said.

When more students arrive than expected, not only does the district lose out on potential cash from developer impact fees, school board member Mark Rising said, but it also isn't able to plan as well for higher populations at certain schools.

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"Right now, the largest impact is that folks aren't recognizing that we're getting more kids than the tables suggest, and we've got to make accommodations in our schools to house more kids," Strang said. "Our goal is to raise awareness and work with the cities to understand the true impact of all the kids that come to Indian Prairie School District."

The district has commissioned a $43,500 study by RSP & Associates, a Kansas-based enrollment consulting firm, to analyze housing and enrollment trends in hopes of persuading Naperville and Aurora officials to update their student generation formulas. The formulas last were set in 2010 based on data from a 2000 study, and school board member Justin Karubas said economic changes during the past decade prove it's time for them to be refreshed again.

The District 204 population is declining, with roughly 300 fewer students enrolled than at this time last year, Superintendent Karen Sullivan said during a school board meeting Monday. But the decline is occurring unevenly, Strang said, leading to crowded conditions in north-side schools -- where multifamily housing is more prevalent -- and extra space on the south side, where new construction largely has brought single-family homes.

Because of that uneven distribution, the district recently sent Naperville officials a letter of opposition regarding Lincoln at CityGate Centre, a 285-unit apartment complex approved for the city's northwest side, but it did not oppose the Towns at Naperville Crossings, a 55-unit cluster of townhouses pending city council approval for the southern portion of the district at Route 59 and 95th Street.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The housing and enrollment study by RSP & Associates is expected to be complete by this winter, Strang said. Then, district officials plan to bring it to planning staff members in Naperville and Aurora, who will review its methodology and findings before elected officials could begin discussions about whether the student generation tables need to be updated.

So far, Strang said, staff members have been open to considering adjustments. But that could change if the report finds officials should continue to expect high numbers of students from apartments, condos and townhouses, and if it suggests they should charge developers accordingly.

"I can only surmise if you're going to increase the fees on developers, that's going to be a problem," Strang said.

Officials said District 204 will protect student privacy as the housing and enrollment study is completed. Only the number of students by grade level in each subdivision will be shared with RSP & Associates, Strang said -- no personal or identifying information.

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