Unit 5 Enrollment Trends
Two years ago Unit 5's growth looked unstoppable. However the major driver of Unit 5s growth (a certain large insurance company) had yet to announce the news that it's Bloomington Normal employment would remain flat for the foreseeable future and that regional offices were opening in Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix.
Between 2013 and 2015 the number of jobs in McLean County has fallen by roughly 2,000. Part of that is due to changes at B/N's largest insurance company. And in part due to other local companies cutting back on jobs in an uncertain economy. These numbers are echoed in Bloomington's drop in sales tax last year and reduced flight numbers at our local airport.
However we have not seen a corresponding drop in enrollment. Unit 5's enrollment is almost identical to last year. The other major factor, besides overall enrollment, is that our lower grade levels have substantially higher enrollment numbers than upper grade levels. We see increases around 200-300 between elementary and High School class sizes. We will see these larger class sizes move into Junior High and High School over the next few years. That means overcrowding issues in upper grade levels.
The unknown here is the growth rate. If other industries locate here and the community remains an attractive place for business, then expanding our schools becomes a necessity. Currently this is a wait-and-see issue. If enrollment stays flat or declines slightly then the bulge in class size will need some accommodations as more students reach High School level. If growth resumes then this becomes a hot topic and expansion is back on the table.
Wanting to learn more about the topic in 2013, I volunteered for the CAC committee “Two High Schools or Three.” I put together information on enrollment estimates and the cost comparison of expanding vs building a third high school. This was a decent portion of our report. Any errors or omissions are mine and I thank the rest of the committee for their help in improving the report.
My estimates are admittedly not at the level of detail you get from a quarter million dollar consultant. But I would appreciate feedback to make this report better. Of the 18 people that read this I know one or two are green eye shade types that enjoy this stuff. If that's you, please take a look and tell me if I missed anything or where you think the estimates are off. The goal is not perfection, but a solid understanding of relative costs and knowing what questions to ask when the topic again becomes an issue.
The link to the report is here.