CHAMPAIGN – Numbers used to promote a 1997 Champaign school referendum show housing start estimates don't always translate into new students to fill schools.
In projections promoting a 1997 referendum to build Stratton and Barkstall schools, school officials based population projections on estimates of 1,343 new housing starts in the district.
"The best estimate is that there will be 778 more children coming into the school system the next five or six years," officials said in the school publication To the Point. "According to enrollment projections, by the year 2005 the district must find space for more than 1,300 elementary students than it had in 1988. Without counting future housing starts, this will put the district's elementary school population about 1,000 over our present capacity."
Those students haven't materialized. The official figure used for state aid for 2005, based on the census as of Sept. 30, 2004, showed a drop of 266 students since 1999 – when two new schools, Stratton and Barkstall, opened.
In 2005, official elementary enrollment in Champaign elementary schools was 4,109 students, according to Illinois State Board of Education numbers, on which general state aid per-pupil payments are based. The state board's figures in 1999 – the first year the two new schools were included in the annual reports – showed 4,375 students.
That's up only slightly from 4,330 elementary students in 10 schools, including 507 students in Garden Hills, in 1998.
District benchmark data – periodic headcounts – tell a similar story.
And the numbers show the census decline was greatest in schools north of University Avenue, where 221 fewer students occupied seats in 2005 than in 1999.
The state board numbers show a dramatic drop in student population in schools north of University Avenue from 1999 to 2005: by 146 at Garden Hills, by 68 at Stratton and by 27 at Dr. Howard. Washington gained 20.
However, the district's consent decree requires the addition of space for more than 200 more students north of University Avenue. The original deadline for that construction was the current school year, but the district has applied for an extension.