Enrollment numbers up in School District 39
Updated: September 3, 2012 12:48PM
Unexpectedly brisk home sales may be bringing more students to Wilmette District 39 schools for the coming year, which has convinced district administrators to hike the number of class sections and instructors they plan to have this fall.
Superintendent Ray Lechner told school board members last month that turnaround has actually pushed class sizes at some grade levels to the upper limits allowed by district policy. That requires splitting sections if class size exceeds 24 in kindergarten through second grade, 27 in third through fifth grade, and 29 in sixth or seventh grade.
The increases won’t mean corresponding budget increases, Lechner emphasized: “We have had a significant savings health insurance premium savings, making room in our budget.”
Savings from the district’s recent decision to outsource bus transportation will also help.
In August of 2011, the district expected to need the equivalent of 140.5 teachers to staff classes from kindergarten through eighth grade for the 2011-12 school year. As of July, it expected to hire 145.5 so-called FTEs for 2012-13.
The hiring increase will affect classes at all six schools. The biggest jumps in sections and the number of teachers needed to staff them, came at Highcrest Middle School and Wilmette Junior High School, where the district now expects to need 34 and 32 class sections respectively, compared to 32 and 30 at the same point last year.
However the district’s four elementary schools — Central, Harper, McKenzie and Romona — are also affected, even though the total number of class sections at each appears roughly static. That’s because of changes at individual grade levels, such as first grade increases at McKenzie, and third grade jumps at Central and Romona.
Margaret Clauson, the district’s human resources administrator, said this week that the district traditionally sets its enrollment and section estimates low each spring for the following fall; this year that meant that the district initially thought the overall number of elementary school sections would be lower than in 2011-12.
“We’re definitely much more conservative in the spring than we are by this point in the process. We project lower than we might actually expect, so that we don’t hire too many staff at first,” she said July 30. “By this time of the year, our enrollment totals are more concrete.”
Clauson said that officials worked hard this year to convince parents to enroll their children earlier in the summer; more parents did so, allowing administrators to make nearly complete forecasts in July rather than August.
However, she said, the district won’t have final numbers until October, “and things could have changed by then.”
She and Lechner both suggested the district should consider adjusting its class size policy.
“It’s particularly onerous that the guidelines do not align with our … attendance centers,” Lechner told board members last month. For instance, although the guidelines cover class sizes for K-2 and 3-5, elementary schools are K-4.