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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mailbag: Melissa Hammann Writes: When is FULL.....really FULL?

Predicting School Enrollment. What model is best? OR When is full really full?
One of my friends recently explained to me the seemingly inexplicable difference between our school capacity in 2002 (2100 students) and the recent PRA reports reduced capacity of 1874. This is based on an industry “90 percent standard” which is often called the “optimal standard.” OK, now we know that full is really full when it’s two entire grades short of being full. WHEN full is full seems to be the biggest question facing our district now.
Superintendent Carvin stated at the recent Planning Commission meeting that they typically see a three-year lag in school enrollment increases based on permit applications. The school district uses a statistic in their analyses called “Enrollment Increase per Building Permit”, but they use current year permit data for this statistic that seems to render it meaningless. I ran a quick and dirty regression analysis of building permits versus the ratio of enrollment increase to building permits factoring in a three-year lag-time. This approach dampens the fluctuations in that statistic, shows moderate linearity (with the mere 4 points I had) and supports using the three year delay in predicting school enrollment. We can expect one more year of “boom” building permits (2004-119) followed by precipitous reductions in 2005 (90) and 2006 (49). 2007 looks to be substantially lower than those. Only 4 permits had been requested as of March 5. According to my source, typical permit requests by March in recent years fell in the 30 to 40 range. The charts and graphs extrapolating enrollment based on 5-year history do not appear to take this into account, growing merrily at a steady rate, predicting overcrowded schools by 2011 (using the 90% -is-full standard). This is a full ten years before our debt load on the high school is retired. Restraint should be the word of the day in approaching this issue at this time.


  1. Anonymous12:59 AM

    Does restraint mean asking the city of Evansville and Union Township to finally start behaving responsibly and declare a moratorium on new housing starts until there is enough commercial growth to pay for the debt that is already in the pipe? Nobody seems to want to speak out loud about it. Including both of the board candidates talking on this forum. Residential taxes are a losing proposition in the long haul unless your building primarily luxury houses and that sure isn't the case in Evansville. I'd like to see someone actually say specifically why it's good to have population growth in Evansville instead of always putting it forward as unarguable article of faith.

  2. Anon---

    "Moratorium" for housing starts is not legal as I understand it. Per audio of several speeches in 2005, through developer agreements there has been voluntary restraint, but no moratorium. Folks have been speaking aloud for a long time about it. This was discussed in the Dec. 2005 of joint Union-Evansville Planning meeting. Using the "search" on the blog search for "Connors" or "planning" and this should come up.

    As far as your essential point--that residential taxes do not solve it--absolutely. Only a mix of tax beneficial commercial and industrial in addition to residential will work. So far, only TIF commercial and industrial is in sight.

    Adding large debt would have the effect of "recycling the housing stock"---which is the planning term for forcing seniors out of their homes and allowing younger families with children to buy them. This will happen if there is no "restraint". This would be bad for all, not just seniors.

  3. Good information Melissa. That's why I am behind you and Richard for school board. You check things out and report all of the information. I repeat, all the information....

  4. Be careful what you wish for, anonymous. If there is no growth--no commercial development and no residential development--it will make putting the city's budget together desperately hard, especially with the current levy limits, which are based on increased tax base from new construction. The city would be forced to dramatically increase fees (e.g., the public fire protection fee on the water bill) and/or cut staff and services. As for the school district, its existing bonds (I'm not talking about the possible new bonds for new schools in 2011) are backloaded, so the schools tax rate will increase unless there is enough growth in the tax base to cover the growing debt service obligations, especially if there is no new construction. From the point of view of trying to control property taxes and provide public services, moderate, steady, predictable growth is good. Wild, crazy, out of control is bad. But no growth is worse, and no growth after a growth boom might be the worst of all.

  5. Anonymous11:00 PM

    Bill and Observer
    once again the you've deflected the specific issue of residential growth by binding it up with commercial to produce "growth" period. The first post did not advocate stopping growth, quite the contrary I said and believe that every effort should be made to increase commercial and industrial even if TIFFs have to be used. The only argument I have with your post is in your insistence that the residential growth [of the average unit values we've seen in the last decade] that has created all these problems and will no doubt continue to do so is somehow part of the cure. As to the moratorium, I believe one was affected in New Glarus Township a few years ago which was either legal as such or was sufficiently restrictive as to have the same effect.

  6. Melissa Hammann11:14 PM

    Sorry-I've been gone for a few days and could not respond to anonymous' comment. By restraint, I meant the school district being restrained from prematurely recommending a referendum when the "boom" enrollment growth should subside by 2008. I am not suggesting any "moratorium" on new housing starts. -Melissa

  7. Anonymous, I agree more commercial development should be a high priority, but stopping residential development does not mean we will get more commercial development (in fact, it makes it less likely). Furthermore, commercial development in a TIF district does not help the city's budget until the TIF district is terminated.

    Small city school districts usually need some level of residential growth. Otherwise, the families in the city age, their kids age, and the size of the incoming kindergarten enrollment starts shrinking year after year. The best case scenario for school facilities utilization is having the same number of children enrolling in kindergarten year after year after year, because that means a steady, predictable sized 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc. What makes school facilities planning hard is if you have a rise in the number of kindergarteners for years during and for a while following a housing growth boom followed by a downward trend in annual kindergarten enrollment as a result of a residential growth bust.