By Terry Dean
Enrollment at District 97 is expected to rise by about 100 kids each year for the next six years as a result of the district's full-day kindergarten program expansion, officials estimate.
The program will also net the Oak Park elementary school district additional state aid as projected prior to the program's launch in 2008. Overall Dist. 97 enrollment is up over the last year, totaling 5,506 students for the current school year, compared to last year's enrollment of roughly 5,400 students. The jump is tied to the full-day program that expanded district-wide last year.
Trish Carlson, Dist. 97's director of human resources and development, who compiles staffing and enrollment data, estimates between 100 and 130 more students will enroll annually in the coming years. It's a raw estimate, she stresses, based on the numbers the district has seen over the last year.
"I'm not a statistician, but this looks like a steady trend," she said.
The program launched in the 2008-2009 school year, initially piloted at Longfellow, Irving and Beye schools. The district had been offering a half-day program while Whittier had its own a multi-age full-day program.
In addition to educational benefits, expanding to a full-day program meant more revenue from the state for the district, officials argued. General state aid is based on a district's average daily attendance. The foundation level for aid changes from year to year. For the current school year, that amount came to $6,119 per student. It was about $5,700 in 2008. Since launching the program that year, Dist. 97 says it has received roughly $4.5 million in general state aid, projected through Fiscal Year 2012. Expenses, including salaries, benefits and supplies, is nearly $3.3 million, resulting in a net gain of about $1.2 million in just the first three years of the program. Per year, that comes to about $420,000.
"Full-day kindergarten is not a drain on our budget," said Kevin Anderson, Dist. 97's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, reporting on the program at the Nov. 30, school board meeting.
Anderson added that the district likely will be hiring more staff and buying more supplies as the kindergarteners move into upper grades.
"We gained about 100 students in kindergarten when we went to full day, so that's another teacher we'd have to employ in first grade," he said.
The district is bracing for cuts in state aid for the upcoming school year due to the state's budget crisis. But Therese O'Neill, assistant superintendent for finance and operations said that the full-day K program has been fairly close to cost-neutral for the district. The district, she noted, was experiencing slight enrollment growth even before the full-day program began.
Going forward, the addition of, say, one teacher in some of the grade levels would not be a financial strain on the district, she explained. Officials also stress that the program's financial costs and educational benefits will need continued monitoring as they move forward.