Less than two hour before Tuesday's School Board meeting, Geneva School District 304 issued a press release and posted a statement on its website in response to the so-called "Enrollmentgate" accusations.
Members of the Geneva TaxFACTS organization had pointed out that the distributed to the general public prior to a 2007 building bond referendum were higher than the numbers given the board by its consultant, Dr. John Kasarda.
The Kasarda report's "most aggressive" estimates said Geneva enrollment would be 6,670 by 2011-12 school year. The number presented in campaign literature was 7,472 students by 2012.
According to the press release, School District staff spent more than a week pouring over meeting minutes and documents from 2005, 2006 and 2007. The result was a finding that multiple sources were used to compile the enrollment data and "nothing deceptive or unlawful was done in the process of the referendum campaign."
"The accusation that district officials did anything deceptive is untrue," the press release said.
The press release said the School District staff enlisted a demographer just prior to the referendum to “support the district’s enrollment projections,” according to a memo from June 12, 2006.
The report does not name the demographer or say who wrote the memo.
However, it does offer an explanation of why the Kasarda numbers were not the only ones presented to the public.
"Documents show that district officials considered many factors in determining enrollment projections, including the Kasarda report, but believed the Kasarda projections were limited because they did not include development beyond the settlements of LaFox, such as the Hughes farm," the press release said.
"They also considered the Regional Office of Education’s Geographic Analysis of the district, dated March 7, 2006, which states, in part, that the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission estimates Geneva School District’s population could reach 8,231 students by 2030. These various sources also indicated that at the time extensive growth was expected west of Randall Road."
At the May 15 School Board meeting, members of the TaxFACTS group had by any School Board members or staff members involved in the distribution of the enrollment numbers to the public.
On Tuesday night, School Board President Mark Grosso pointed out that the School District had looked into the matter and the School Board did not have the authority to launch an investigation. "This board does not have any investigative powers other than looking at our own numbers and our own research," he said.
Several TaxFACTS members said that the statement did not go far enough.
"The response you sent on the web today was a nonresponse," said Barry Bourdage. "You essentially said, it wasn’t a good statement ... I sure hope you take a look at what’s going on."
Here is the press release statement in full:
Press Release – District 304 Responds to Claims of Impropriety
For Immediate Release – May 29, 2012
In recent weeks, the residents of Geneva have been told that Geneva School District Board members and administrators intentionally inflated enrollment projections on 2007 referendum campaign literature in order to pass an $80 million referendum to fund the construction of one new elementary school and one replacement elementary school, among other expenditures. The accusation that district officials did anything deceptive is untrue.
District staff has now spent more than a week pouring over meeting minutes and documents from 2005, 2006, and 2007 and have found that Geneva School District had been using its own well-tested enrollment growth projection model for years preceding the April 2007 referendum. District officials regularly calculated enrollment projections using information from local developers, the Regional Office of Education, birth rates in Kane County, and historical enrollment changes and by using a number of methodologies, i.e. Cohort Survival Method, “Bell Telephone” Method (yield per house), and annual kindergarten registration numbers.
Staff enlisted a demographer just prior to the referendum to “support the district’s enrollment projections,” according to a memo from June 12, 2006. The memo states: “During the data-gathering phase of the facility master plan, we looked for ways to validate information. The Kane County Office of Education (ROE) assisted the district, using its geographic information systems software to validate the enrollment projections of District 304 and Dr. Kasarda.” Dr. John Kasarda of the University of North Carolina was the consulting demographer hired by the district. Both the Kasarda and ROE reports were placed on the district’s website, according to this memo.
The referendum campaign literature in question states that the District’s K-12 enrollment was projected to reach 7,472 students by 2012 and “These projections are calculated by district officials with various scenarios in the formulas and have been verified by the Kasarda consulting firm.” This number, however, is higher than Kasarda’s most aggressive estimates, which project 6,670 students in 2011-12.
There is no record of which individual(s) was responsible for the exact statement used in the referendum campaign literature, but it is understandable that some might call into question the discrepancy between the projections and the wording used. However, it is clear from the review of documents that district officials took into account various sources of input and build-out estimates as they calculated enrollment projections.
We know that the referendum campaign literature was distributed by the Geneva Citizens for Excellent Schools using information from district officials and two Board of Education members serving as liaisons to the group. We also know that this was a time of extensive growth, and a large population boom was expected, as these plans were developed prior to the economic collapse that impacted housing starts across the nation and in the Geneva area.
Documents show that district officials considered many factors in determining enrollment projections, including the Kasarda report, but believed the Kasarda projections were limited because they did not include development beyond the settlements of LaFox, such as the Hughes farm. They also considered the Regional Office of Education’s Geographic Analysis of the district, dated March 7, 2006, which states, in part, that the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission estimates Geneva School District’s population could reach 8,231 students by 2030. These various sources also indicated that at the time extensive growth was expected west of Randall Road.
It should be remembered that the two schools that were funded through the referendum included only one new school. Williamsburg Elementary School was built as a replacement for Coultrap Elementary School, and all of the students to populate that school already resided within the district. Fabyan Elementary School was the new school built, and it was reported at the time of the referendum that the school would open half-full to accommodate future growth. Board meeting minutes from 2006 indicate that Fabyan would have a capacity of 564 students but open with only 300-400 students depending on which neighborhoods were assigned to the new school.
Geneva School District Board of Education and staff are dedicated to the students of Geneva and the community they serve. Accusations that these individuals intentionally inflated the enrollment projections to pass a referendum are both inaccurate and inappropriate. The best possible planning was done at that particular high-growth time using a variety of sources.
Board members had countless public discussions of facility planning, the referendum, district enrollment projections, Dr. Kasarda’s report, the ROE report, financing future buildings, and other related topics, all of which are accounted for in meeting minutes posted on the district’s website, www.geneva304.org by clicking on Board of Education, Meetings, and Minutes. Due to the fact that this referendum was associated with a larger 2020 Facility Master Plan, the public transparency and input sought by the district was comprehensive and included many opportunities over more than a six-month period for residents to engage.
Ultimately, the district used census data, information from local developers, and data from the Regional Office of Education in addition to the consulting demographer to arrive at the enrollment projections that were used in the referendum campaign literature. Nothing deceptive or unlawful was done in the process of the referendum campaign. It is understandable that the wording of the campaign literature could be considered a poor choice of words. But this misunderstanding should not erase the good planning and good intentions of the board members and staff that did what they believed was best at the time to avoid overcrowding at the elementary level and to replace an aging building.