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District 65 projects K-8 student enrollment to decline another 456 students in next five years

District 65’s K-8 student enrollment, excluding Park and Rice schools, is projected to decline by another 456 students in the next five years, according to a memorandum prepared by Sarita Smith, Manager of Student Assignments. The memo was attached as an information item to the agenda for the School Board’s policy committee meeting on Jan 17.

“As we have seen in the past five years, enrollment projections are trending down district wide and will continue to do so in the next five years,” Smith’s memo says.

In the last five years, between 2018-19 and 2022-23, actual student enrollment in grades K-8 (excluding Park and Rice schools) declined by 1,306 students.

Much of this drop occurred after schools were closed for in-person learning due to Covid. In the two school years following school closings in March 2020, District 65’s actual enrollment dropped by 932 students. It was hoped that enrollment would bump up when schools were completely opened and things became more normal, but enrollment dropped by an additional 277 students for this school year, 2022-23.

Smith says in his memo, “Last year we anticipated an increase in enrollment from students that moved to private or homeschooling, but this was not the case. We have not recouped those students but have seen an increase in students transferring in from Chicago and an increase in students with IEPs [Individual Education Programs] and additional education services.

“We have not seen a recovery from students that left or never began school in D65 since the pandemic,” she writes.

Smith highlights trends in kindergarten and sixth grade that have impacted enrollment. Kindergarten enrollment has been on a steady decline for the last three years. In 2019-20, the kindergarten enrollment was 768. In the next three years, it dropped to 636, 634, and then 597 for this school year.

Smith writes, “The impact of Covid-19 and trend in lower kindergarten numbers are consistent across all schools. Orrington, Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Washington and Willard have much lower kindergarten enrollment numbers than they have had in the past few years.

“Most of these schools are on the north side of Evanston, and there are assumptions that many of these families are opting for private school.”

Smith’s memo does not contain an analysis of enrollment shifts at private schools in the area during the Covid years or of their capacity to admit additional students.

Another major drop is in the enrollment at sixth grade.

In 2018-19, the sixth-grade enrollment was 919. In the next four years, it dropped to 830, 780, 773 and then 661 for this school year. Smith said they were projecting 795 students for sixth grade for 2022-23, and the number came in at 661, or 16.8% less than projected.

At Haven Middle School alone, the district was projecting 272 students at sixth grade for this school year, but only 206 enrolled, said Smith.

In the next five years, student enrollment in grades K-8 (excluding Park and Rice schools) is projected to decline from 6,116 in 2022-23 to 5,660 in 2027-28.

Smith’s memo says the downward trend “has been consistent since 2017 and doesn’t seem to be moving in the other direction anytime soon.”

The chart below shows the trends. It provides district’s 65’s K-8 actual student enrollment for the school years 2018-19 through 2022-23, and the district’s projected enrollment for 2023-24 through 2027-28. The enrollment numbers do not include Park or Rice schools.

Assumptions for the projections

There are two key assumptions used in making the projections: The first is an assumption about what kindergarten enrollment will be; the second is an assumption about how many students will continue on from year to year after kindergarten, and how many will enter District 65 after kindergarten and at what grade levels. The table below shows the district’s projections by grade level over the next five years.

Kindergarten enrollment

The above table shows that the district is projecting that kindergarten enrollment will increase slightly but remain relatively steady over the next five years. The district’s projections for kindergarten enrollment are as follows: 622 for 2023-24, and then 618, 612, 617 and 616.

Smith’s memo does not state how the projections for kindergarten enrollment were arrived at and does not explain why the downward trend experienced in the last five years would stop.

Historically the district has used the number of births to Evanston residents as one key data point. Last year the district’s projection of enrollment for kindergarten was too high, anticipating that the kindergarten enrollment would be 678 students. But the actual number who enrolled was 597, a difference of 81 students, or an error rate of 11.95%, says Smith in his memo.

In the four prior years, the district projections for kindergarten enrollment were also significantly higher than the actual kindergarten enrollment. In 2021-22, the projections for kindergarten enrollment were 12.2% higher than the actual enrollment. They were higher by 18.2% in 2020-21; by 6.6% in 2019-20, and by 7.3% in 2018-19.

Last year, on Feb. 14, 2022, Charles Kofron, a demographer retained by the district, presented his Geodemographic Study containing enrollment projections to the school board’s policy committee.

Kofron found that the number of births to Evanston residents declined by more than 30% during the last decade, and that kindergarten enrollments at District 65 declined by about 26% in the last six years. He says the births are also down for the 2024 and 2025 kindergarten cohort years, and his extrapolations of the data show continued declines in births to Evanston residents.*

A chart reflecting the births to Evanstonians contained in Kofron’s study is reprinted below. It matches up births to Evanstonians with kindergarten years. As an example, births in 2010 are reported for the 2015 kindergarten cohort year.

If projections for kindergarten enrollment are too high or too low, they impact the projections not only for the kindergarten year, eg, 2023-24, they also impact the projections for each subsequent year of the projections, because it becomes the base for projecting first grade enrollment in the next year, and then second grade in the year after that, etc.

Cohort survival rate

In projecting student enrollment for first through eighth grades, it appears that the district simply rolled the student enrollment numbers from one grade level up to the next higher grade level. For example, if the student enrollment in second grade was 624 students in school year 2022-23, the district rolled that number up for the projected enrollment of third graders in school year 2023-24.

In the past, the district computed an average of the prior three years to determine what percentage of students (called the cohort survival rate), in a given grade should be rolled up to the next year in the projections. Here, the district has rolled up 100%.

In doing his study, Kofron recognized that closing schools due to Covid injected additional uncertainty into determining a reliable cohort survival ratio to apply going forward. He computed three cohort survival ratios in an attempt to adjust for a Covid impact. The highest cohort survival ratio that he computed for any grade level in the high scenario was 1.003. (which did not include Covid years) The lowest for any grade level in the low scenario was 0.963 (which included two Covid years).

Enrollment projections by school

Smith’s memo also provides actual enrollment numbers for each school (not including Park or Rice) for this school year and the past four years, and it also projects the enrollment for each school (again, excluding Park or Rice) for the next five years.

Smith cautions that the enrollment projections by school “assume consistency in special education and bilingual programs and the same level of interest in selective enrollment magnet schools and programs.” In addition, the projections do not take into account the district’s decision to build a new school in the Fifth Ward and to close Rhodes magnet school, or the impact that will have on the enrollment at the various other schools. In addition, it does not take into account new attendance areas for the schools.

It is still possible that the district will close another school or school as a budget reduction strategy. If students are no longer bused from the Fifth Ward to the elementary schools in the north end of Evanston (ie, Lincolnwood, Willard, Kingsley and Orrington), those school’s enrollments will likely decline further.

The table below shows the actual enrollment of the district’s schools (excluding Park and Rice) for the school years 2018-19 (a pre-Covid year) and 2022-23. It also provides the district’s projections of enrollment at the schools for the next five years.

D65 K-8 Enrollment, Actual for 2018-19 and 2022-23 and Projected for Other Years (excluding Park and Rice schools)

The chart below illustrates the same data.

Actual shifts in the schools between 2018-19 and 2022-23

Schools in the north end of Evanston had some of the major declines in enrollment in the last four years: Haven Middle School’s enrollment declined by 176 students, Willard’s by 129 students, Orrington’s by 121 students and Lincolnwood’s by 80 students.

Other schools where enrollment declined by more than 100 students in the last four years were Dewey, where enrollment declined by 135 students; Lincoln by 104 students; King Arts by 157 students; and Nichols by 128 students.

Administrators to some degree control the enrollment at King Arts through the magnet school admission process.

Projections by school for next five years

Only four schools are projected to increase enrollment in the next five years: Haven by 36 students, Nichols by four, Oakton by 10 and Rhodes by 24. The enrollment at King Arts is projected to remain the same. Enrollment at all other schools is expected to decline.

The biggest projected declines are Lincolnwood, which is projected to lose 31 students; Orrington, 57 students; Washington, 87 students; Walker, 33 students; and Willard, 44 students. Many of these schools had substantial declines in actual enrollment in the prior four years.

Planned actions

Because “all information is pointing to an overall decrease in enrollment throughout District 65,” Smith’s memo says, it is imperative that the district continue to plan for this reduction in schools and classroom sections.

“The human resource department, finance department, student assignment and registration team, schools’ and student services teams are collaborating to review enrollment projections, budget, educator allocations, and school sections. This will help us determine projected needs and create a balanced budget.”

Smith said, “This is the third year we have collaborated with all local preschools through the Childcare Network of Evanston’s director meeting. We review the registration process, offer in-person orientation sessions, and ask them to share our orientation sessions. The D65 Specialist for Family and Community Partnerships is helping promote and lead kindergarten orientations and working with our community partners to promote our school offerings.”

She added that students from Chicago have been transferring into District 65 and that many have IEPs.

“We are also closely monitoring how we place students with IEPs to meet the ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education] 70/30 rule, which sets the ratio of students with and without IEPs scheduled in general education classrooms. This has become increasingly challenging since we have had an increase in students transfer in with IEPs after the school year begins and this trend has continued.”

Smith’s memo also says, “We are planning closely with the HR, Student Services, and Multicultural teams to review section, school and district needs to provide accurate projections that will impact future staffing needs.”

As noted, Smith’s memo was presented as an informational item at the policy committee’s Jan 17 meeting. There was no discussion of the enrollment projections at that meeting.


*Kofron’s enrollment numbers are subject to a major caveat. His study is based on enrollment data as of some date in August, rather than as of the official enrollment date, which is Sept. 30. When asked, he did not provide the as of date in August for the enrollment data he used. A comparison of the August and Sept. 30 enrollment numbers shows the August enrollment numbers have been historically significantly higher than the official enrollment numbers as of Sept. 30. A detailed analysis on this issue is available here.

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