Over 5 Years, Enrollment in District 135 Drops by 591 Students
Staff believe a stagnant economy and housing market have led to a decline in numbers since 2005.
Projections for the number of students attending Orland School District 135 are continuing in a downward direction that began in 2005.
The total number of students enrolled throughout all 10 District 135 schools fell by 591, from 5,856 at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year to 5,265 for the 2010-11 year. Board of Education members were given a report at the Feb. 14 committee meeting on enrollment numbers that illustrated the decline.
Why the drop?
“I think it’s the housing market,” said Colleen Schultz, District 135 assistant superintendent of student services and director of special education. “It really started when the economy started going flat. We’re hoping that when the economy comes around enrollment will rise again, especially once the homes turn over.”
Staff is expecting the total number of children attending the schools will drop by about another 100 students for the 2011-12 school year.
Before the 2009-10 school year, 15.5 classroom teaching positions were eliminated within the district. Five jobs were cut before the current year.
When asked why a higher tax levy was requested for the current fiscal year than the last when enrollment has lessened, Assistant Superintendent John Reiniche said even with fewer staff, expenses are still rising.
“Contract salaries are still our biggest expense,” Reiniche said. “I don’t think asking for less will cover the expenditures. Revenues aren’t increasing at the same rate as expenditures. We can give (teachers) no raises and there still would be step increases and base increases on their salaries.”
Rather than looking to cut more teaching positions, Julie Oberwise, director of human resources, said staff will be looking more at specialist positions such as music, art, physical education, social workers, counselors and media specialists.
“The decline is across the entire district, but the individual schools’ numbers go up and down,” Oberwise said.
Board member John Carmody asked if the possibility of closing Park School had been considered, with students moving to other schools.
“There’s always been the threat of either selling Park to the village to develop the area, or getting rid of Center because it sits between two malls,” Oberwise said. “But it’s never been looked at, the details, the ramifications. It’s always just been a floating idea.”
One enrollment number that is rising is children 3 and 4 years old who were identified as needing extra assistance in school.
“Technically we are a K-8 district, so we have to service 3 and 4-year-olds who get early intervention services,” Oberwise said. “We have to look at those numbers as well, because those programs are centered at Park and Central."
District 135 Board President Tom Cunningham questioned whether any cuts could be made within the administration staff.
“You can’t justify going down roughly 20 teachers, and we’ve only eliminated one position at the district office level,” Cunningham said during the meeting. “We can’t go to taxpayers and say why we’re so top heavy. It has to be a part of the strategic planning.”
Oberwise said she is working with school principals to decide what resources they will need based on the schools’ enrollments. A full staffing report based on those needs is expected to be presented in March.