More space — and a future property tax increase — is needed to accommodate growing enrollment in Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95, say district leaders.
In the short term, mobile classrooms could appear at Brook Park Elementary School in LaGrange Park as soon as next year as a temporary solution the space crunch, said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski last week.
“It seems to be the most logical and cost-effective with the least amount of disruption to students,” Kuzniewski said of using mobile classrooms as a short-term fix at Brook Park to accommodate rising enrollment.
At last week’s committee of the whole meeting of the school board, Kuzniewski gave a presentation about enrollment growth in the district. Kuzniewski’s goal was to educate the public and to begin building a core of supporters for what looks to be an inevitable tax referendum campaign in a couple of years.
“This is the initial kickoff of a lot of conversations about space needs,” Kuzniewski said at the start of his talk.
After the meeting, school board President Lynn Waterloo ruled out seeking a referendum in April 2015, which means that a referendum could come in 2016 or 2017 at the earliest.
“Long term solutions are two-and-a-half to three years away,” Kuzniewski said.
Enrollment in District 95 has increased by 4 percent just this year alone, jumping 45 students from 1,108 students last year to 1,153. Seven more students are scheduled to move into the district by Dec. 1, Kuzniewski said.
The increase in first-grade students this year caused the district to create another section at Brook Park after the school year started. In his presentation, Kuzniewski said district enrollment increased by 10 percent, or 107 students, from the 2008-09 school year to the 2013-14 school year. Class sizes at Brook Park have risen from 21 to 23 in 2008 to 25 to 28 today.
The district projects enrollment to grow by another 225 students over the next five years.
“We cannot absorb these students,” Kuzniewski told the supportive crowd of about 30 to 35 people who attended the board’s meeting on Oct 23. “There are no magic rabbits coming out a hat to create space. And we’re going to have to increase staff. We’re going to need more teachers, more custodians, more nurses. We need a major project to create space. We can’t look at space without looking at money.”
The district completed a 19,000-square-foot addition to Brook Park in 2007-08, which added seven new classrooms. S.E. Gross Middle School was also renovated in 2008 with a new school offices added, two new science labs built and the library expanded.
The additions and renovation at the district’s two schools cost about $9 million and was mostly financed with a $7.5 bond issue. The bonds are not scheduled to be paid off until 2027.
Last year the district hired a demographer to conduct a trend and enrollment projection study. Dr. John Kasarda estimated that the district could see an increase of a few as 106 students to as many as 240 more students in next five years.
Enrollment growth has been driven by families with school-age children moving into the district. Kasarda noted that the population in District 95 is most heavily dominated by people more than 65 years old. As these people move away and more and more young families with children move into the district enrollment will continue to increase, Kuzniewski said.
District 95 is attractive to young families because of its schools, convenient transportation and affordable housing stock, Kuzniewski said, noting that Brookfield is one of the most affordable western suburbs.
Kuzniewski said that even with additional funding for more teachers and other staff the district will not need an increase in its education fund in the next few years as long as new programming, such as all-day kindergarten, is not added.
However a building fund referendum will be needed for the district to address its space needs in the long term, because the building fund can now contribute only $2 million to additional space.
“Two million dollars million is not enough to build the space we need,” Kuzniewski said.
The district is also looking into reconfiguring classrooms to better fit how students are taught in the 21st century.
Kuzniewski portrayed the need for more space as a way to boost the community.
“This is not a school issue, this is a community issue,” Kuzniewski said. “This is an opportunity for the community to be great. This is an opportunity for home values to soar. This is an opportunity to send your kids to state-of-the-art buildings.”
Kuzniewski appeared to be preaching to the converted as the audience applauded when he finished his presentation.
The district will hold two community meetings to provide a more in depth look at the space challenges and enrollment projections. The first community meeting will be held Tuesday Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room of Brook Park School, 30th Street and Raymond Avenue in LaGrange Park. Another meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in the second floor conference room at S. E. Gross Middle School, 3524 Maple Ave. in Brookfield.