As I wrote about here, one of the reasons I’m not in favor of the district’s bond proposal is that it would build 1,896 more seats than our enrollment projections show that we’ll need even ten years from now. Is it possible that our projections are not fully capturing the amount of population growth that will occur? Yes; in fact, I think it’s likely in some areas. The problem, though, is that those aren’t the areas where we’re building most of those “extra” seats.
One way to judge whether the enrollment projections are capturing growth is to compare them to the “age progression” data we received last year. Age progressions show what the enrollment would be if we just kept moving our current students forward each year. In other words, they show what the enrollment would be if no one moves in and no one moves out; they show what the enrollment would be with zero growth.
In some parts of the district, the projections show more students than the age progressions show; this means they’re predicting some growth in those areas. For example, compare the age progressions to the enrollment projections for City High:
Similarly, though to a somewhat lesser extent, the projections show growth at West High:
At Liberty High, though, the enrollment projections are actually lower than the age progressions:
This aspect of the enrollment projections is striking and very hard to explain. North Liberty is one of the fastest growing cities in Iowa, and there are hundreds of housing units planned for the area around Liberty High in both North Liberty and Coralville. It’s very hard to understand how we could end up with fewer students at Liberty than even the zero-growth age progressions would predict.
In other words, our projections appear to be recognizing likely growth in Iowa City, but missing it in the North Corridor. So, if anything, you’d think our plans should track the projections in Iowa City, but exceed them in the Corridor. But the bond proposal exceeds them in Iowa City way more than it does in the Corridor. The proposal would build 1,388 more elementary seats than the enrollment projections show we’ll need, but 728 of those “excess” seats are in the City High zone, where it appears that the enrollment projections are already capturing a fair amount of growth. Only 166 of them are in the Liberty zone, where the projections seem not to be capturing any growth at all.
Maybe the growth patterns will surprise us. Enrollment projections are inherently speculative, especially when they reach many years out. In my view, that’s a good reason not to make plans that extend seven years out from the time of bond passage. But at the very least, the district should be trying to build its new capacity in the areas where it expects the growth to occur. Under that standard, the bond proposal is very hard to defend.