Forest Park School District 91 has a shrinking enrollment and is projected to continue to contract for the next 10 years, Superintendent Louis Cavallo told the school board at their meeting, Oct. 11.

“We had a hard look at what’s really going on,” said Cavallo. “There are lower birth rates in Cook County and fewer and fewer kids to populate our schools.”

Cavallo said calculations created by Information Management Systems of Rockford, Mich., predicted that by 2017-18, the district would have 677 students, down from around 1,000 in 2004. Cavallo said the decision a few years ago to consolidate to grade-level centers was a response to shrinking enrollment.

“We can continue our programs,” he said, “because we made a decision not to [take a reduction in force].” However, the smaller enrollment might make it necessary to “cut one eighth-grade teacher down the line.”

School additions, bus service affected by enrollment

Cavallo warned that the plan to replace the staff-office trailer unit behind Betsy Ross School and to build an addition would be “a tougher sell to the community,” for a smaller school district. But board member Sean Blaylock pointed out that the trailer represented staff office space. “We never intended to use that trailer for classroom space,” he said.

Cavallo also announced that the district would change bus service between elementary schools and Forest Park Middle School to two buses on a loop route, as opposed to four buses travelling back and forth. “It will mean arriving in some cases 15 minutes early,” Cavallo said. He promised the district would communicate with parents well in advance to let them know about transportation changes. “We will get the word out before we go live,” he said.

Supervision would be provided for playgrounds before school for students or siblings who arrived early, said Cavallo, noting that it was cheaper to use the district’s own bus and driver to transport special education students to out-of-district schools. “Again, given decreasing enrollment, it’s preferable to use existing personnel and resources,” he said.

Special education classroom discussed

Cavallo also said he was looking into creating a special education classroom for “low-incidence disabilities,” such as autistic spectrum disorder, within the district. The new classroom would offer the same kinds of instruction and therapies for which D91 now pays tuition to out-of-district schools.

“Why send the kids to Helping Hand or Giant Steps when we can plan a classroom and staff to serve those kids in a top-notch manner? It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Board member Mary Turek pointed out that many parents would prefer the option of having a child with special needs attend the local school with siblings. Cavallo said the district has resources for early childhood autism help, but “we don’t want the families to have to leave in third grade. We may even be able to offer this program to other districts.”

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...