Enrollment is down in Forest Park District 91 schools, with 59 fewer students attending class in the district this school year compared to last, according to a presentation by Superintendent Louis Cavallo at a board of education meeting on Sept. 13.
During the 2017-18 school year, there were 820 students in the district. This school year, 761 students, age preschool to eighth grade, are enrolled. That is the largest drop in enrollment D91 has experienced in at least six school years, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education’s School Report Card. It is also the smallest number of students enrolled in the district during the same time frame.
“There are still some families out there that we expected to be here that we haven’t heard from,” Cavallo said at the meeting. “They haven’t requested a transfer yet, so these numbers will likely still go up. They just haven’t started with us; that’s been the case forever. For some reason, there are people still on vacation.”
Much of the district’s loss came from its younger students, with 20 fewer students enrolled in kindergarten this school year compared to last — “that’s a whole classroom,” Cavallo said — and 19 fewer first-graders enrolled this school year compared to last.
Cavallo called kindergarten and first grade “critical grade levels” for D91 since “we’ve noticed that when we get them in, they continue to keep going,” he said.
From kindergarten to first grade, Cavallo added, three students left the district.
He partially credited the total decrease in younger students to a declining birth rate in Cook County.
“Birth rates are lower and we’re going to start seeing fewer and fewer kids starting in the district,” he said.
Nine fewer students enrolled in second grade this school year compared to the number enrolled in second grade last year, he said. From first to second grade, 23 students left the district, Cavallo said. Four fewer students enrolled in third grade classes at D91, he said, although no students left the district between the second and third grade school years.
In fourth grade, Cavallo said there were 24 fewer students enrolled this year compared to last. Twenty-eight students left the district between third and fourth grade.
“I do want to point out that we often hear that it’s in third grade when people move,” Cavallo said. “Well, they went to third grade and we actually added one. But from third to fourth we lost 28 students.”
Board President Mary Win Connor added: “Someone had a hard time selling their house, maybe.”
Meanwhile, the total number of students enrolled in fifth, sixth and seventh grades increased year over year, Cavallo said. From fourth to fifth grade, four students did not advance in their cohort; from fifth to sixth, 12 students entered the district; from sixth to seventh grade, nine students left the district; and from seventh to eighth grade, two students came into D91, he said.
The district is down 19 eighth-graders this year compared to last, Cavallo said.
Garfield Elementary School experienced the greatest drop in enrollment, with 25 fewer students enrolled year over year. Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School saw the smallest drop in students, with a decrease of just two between school years.
There are 17 fewer students at Betsy Ross Elementary School year over year; 15 fewer students at Forest Park Middle School; and four fewer students at Grant-White Intermediate Elementary School.
“My concern is that housing costs may be driving some of this,” said board Secretary Eric Connor. “You know, the housing costs go up, rents go up, people can’t afford it, they move out.”
Cavallo mentioned that the vast majority of D91 students are renters, since the majority of Forest Park’s housing stock is rental housing.
“With the housing market that’s over half rental we get a lot of people coming and going, especially this time of year as people are getting settled in to school,” Cavallo said at the board meeting. “So we don’t know what it’ll be down the road.”
He said, however, that rental housing is not new to the village and that enrollment typically stays steady year over year. D91’s enrollment study, which expired last school year, projected the number of students entering the district to decrease over the years due to declining birth rates in Cook County.
Cavallo said he wanted to wait until next year to commission another study, in the event that the change in enrollment this year is an “outlier,” and that the numbers would skew the projection. The study, conducted by the Minnesota-based Information Management Systems firm, costs a “couple hundred dollars” and takes a few months to complete, he said.
“It could be an outlier year, it could be a trend, but I don’t want to say either one yet,” Cavallo said.
Cavallo said he has asked the principals of each school for a list of where students’ transfer requests were sent, in an effort to find out where D91’s students are going. He said he expects enrollment at D91 to increase in the next few weeks, as families return from vacation.
Board member Christina Ricordati mentioned that, although there was a notable decrease in the total number of students enrolled in D1, there are still 19 students on the waiting list for preschool.
“Despite this, the class sizes are where we want them to be; that kind of did work out,” she said. “It’s not like we have a teacher with two children or anything like that.”