An April 2007 study of projected enrollment trends in District 91 led administrators to believe that over a five-year period class sizes would dwindle by as much as 20 percent. Such a dramatic dip could make way for staffing cuts and budget reductions, or free up existing funds to be applied in new ways. However, school board members learned this month that such a scenario may not play out.

“My gut feeling is we’re going to maintain [enrollment levels],” Superintendent Lou Cavallo said. “We’ve been pretty steady.”

At the board’s March 13 meeting Cavallo introduced his projection for the 2008-09 school year of 1,047 students in the K-8 district. That figure assumes that both the junior kindergarten – a new program slated to debut next year – and the senior kindergarten classes will be at capacity. The junior kindergarten program alone has the potential to add 120 kids to the district.

At the start of the current school year in September, the district’s four campuses had 987 students. That number was larger than the projections produced by all three models in the April 2007 report.

Cavallo’s estimate of 1,047 students at the start of the coming school year also exceeds the figures provided by the earlier study, in one case by as much as 20 percent.

“We’re actually above where those projections said we would be,” Cavallo said. “We don’t seem to be losing enrollment at a real significant rate. We’re not gaining much either.”

Whatever financial wiggle room might be created by an expanding and contracting student body is going to be watched closely, said Cavallo. The district has several sweeping initiatives on its plate, including the development of a junior kindergarten program, curriculum changes at every grade level and a push for updated computer systems in the school libraries.

When various job titles are vacated the district is not looking to automatically hire a replacement, according to Business Manager Ed Brophy, and instead is evaluating whether the schools can go without. In other cases, teachers may be shuffled into another discipline so that resources are allocated where there is a greater need or priority.

“This junior kindergarten program is pretty critical to me,” school board President Glenn Garlisch said.

Generally speaking, said Garlisch, enrollment has hovered at 1,000 students. The board is committed to a cap of 20 students per class, and so long as the number of kids stays in the upper teens, it’s unlikely a teaching position will be cut or shifted. Though this makes it more difficult to find money already in the budget for new programs, Garlisch said he does not expect taxpayers will have to pony up gobs of money in the near future.

At the start of the school year the board adopted new guidelines that will keep students within their attendance boundaries, rather than transferring kids across town to help balance classroom sizes. That practice is expected to save on transportation costs, but is predicated on the projection that total enrollment is not going to leap.

Another potential area for savings is in the special education department. According to Cavallo, educators are predicting fewer special needs students in the coming years, which may free up teachers for the junior kindergarten program.

“We are watching that carefully because there are things we want to do,” Cavallo said.