School officials are hoping it’s no longer necessary to transfer students across town to maintain smaller class sizes in District 91, and administrators will begin making a concerted effort to place children at schools within their neighborhoods.

The practice of “class balancing” took hold several years ago when the school board adopted a policy to cap the number of students per classroom at 20. Students were often shuttled to other elementary schools in the district that weren’t as crowded.

Betsy Ross Elementary School Principal Bill Milnamow said in many respects class balancing was a success because it gave teachers a more manageable group of students to work with. But now that the district isn’t as strapped for space, Milnamow said the decision to adhere more closely to attendance-area boundaries should have a positive impact.

“I think so. [Teachers] know the kids in the neighborhood,” Milnamow said. “Families know each other. There’s a real camaraderie involved.”

Forest Park has four public elementary schools and one middle school. There are approximately 645 students in the elementary schools and 342 students in the middle school.

Enrollment projections presented to the board in early 2007 are calling for a drop in the student body by as much as 23 percent over the next five years. Superintendent Lou Cavallo said this report weighed heavily in his decision to discourage transfers within the district. Even the most conservative estimate in the report projects that 13 percent fewer students will attend District 91 by the start of the 2012-13 school year.

“If I moved everybody back to their home school we would pretty much be balanced,” Cavallo said of the district’s current enrollment.

At a recent school board meeting Cavallo explained that students will not be yanked from their elementary classrooms simply to reduce the number of transfer students within the district. However, any new enrollment requests have to be approved by the superintendent.

“In general, these requests will be denied unless there are extenuating circumstances that threaten the child’s health or safety,” according to the new guidelines.

A likely residual effect of keeping students within their attendance areas is a gradual decrease in transportation costs, Cavallo said. District 91 has budgeted for slightly more than $509,000 in transportation costs over the new fiscal year.

“We spend a considerable amount of money transporting kids in 2.5-square miles,” Cavallo said during an August budget hearing.

Based on her enrollment numbers, Garfield Elementary School Principal Jamie Stauder estimates that 25 percent of her students do not live in the Garfield attendance area. There are 36 students enrolled at Garfield this year who did not live in the neighborhood, Stauder said. Thirteen of those kids are from Betsy Ross and 15 are from Field-Stevenson Elementary, both of which are on the south side of town. Garfield is north of the Eisenhower Expressway at the intersection of Hannah and Jackson streets.

“I think my numbers last year were about 40 percent of my students were not Garfield students,” Stauder said.

At Betsy Ross, Milnamow has 144 students in his attendance area but 37 of them are enrolled elsewhere.