DeKalb’s Population Illusions

**Update: DHS enrollment projections for next year have been corrected from 17,000 to 1,700 and I appreciate receiving the email heads up.**

Possibly the worst argument in support of the land swap deal between District 428 and Shodeen is this:

The land near [DeKalb High School] offers more promise for the district than Kiwanis Park. School officials said 1,800 students are enrolled at DHS now, but that number could expand to 2,500 or 3,000 students in the future, making it necessary to plan for a expansion of DHS facilities in the future.

I see that a commenter at the online newspaper site has already pointed out, “The most recent report done by an actual demographer and not an extrapolater shows flat enrollment for 20 years.”

It’s true. There was a demography report done pre-referendum, while our community enjoyed tremendous growth; then a second one was completed at the insistence of District 428’s Facilities Planning Committee after the economy tanked. Projections from the second show DeKalb’s high school enrollment dropping under 1,700 next year and the year after (which makes me wonder how close an estimate is the 1,800 reported above).

Unfortunately, the school board had their fingertips packed firmly in their ears during the presentation of the second demographer’s report, and they built DeKalb High School for 3,000 students. This has led to operational difficulties such as having to open DHS short four of the custodians they needed.

So, talking about expansion of DHS with any urgency right now is just…just

Colonel Sandurz: Prepare ship for light speed.
Dark Helmet: No, no, no, light speed is too slow.
Colonel Sandurz: Light speed, too slow?
Dark Helmet: Yes, we’re gonna have to go right to ludicrous speed.

Yeah, that’s it: ludicrous speed.

DeKalb Denies Shrinkage
The City of DeKalb has behaved similarly. DeKalb grew by the proverbial leaps and bounds in the first years of the new century, from 39,000 in 2000 to a count of 45,500 taken in a special census in 2007. Then, even with indicators such as utility revenues dropping like crazy after 2007, city officials still acted as if we were on track to 50,000; and though the 2010 U.S. Census confirmed we had shrunk to under 44,000 (and by the way, revenue indicators are still dropping) we are presented every day with the assumption that we have “recovered.”

This because the motto has always been “Grow or die,” which has severely limited the choices with which we can describe our condition as a community.

We need a new motto for a new time, one with “abide” in it. What we should be asking is how we can sustain ourselves during this period of contraction, and with every build and hire and increase in compensation, how many we are doing this for and whether the tab matches what the inhabitants can support.

NIU Total Enrollment is Not the Whole Story
Finally, let’s talk about Northern Illinois University enrollment. Before NIU released its fall enrollment report, there were rumors of “catastrophic statements” being made about it.

The numbers, released September 12, showed a drop of 4.9% from last year, a bit dismaying but hardly catastrophic.

But wait a minute! NIU has three other sites besides DeKalb: Hoffman Estates, Naperville and Rockford. What if one campus did suffer a serious drop in enrollment, but growth at another helped make up for it in the final tally?

To find out, I submitted a Freedom of Information of Information Act request for annual fall enrollment going back several years and broken down by campus. I was denied. So for now, at least, my working hypothesis has to be that the flagship campus is probably taking a dive, and isn’t it a shame (the hypothesis, I mean) because I’d rather obtain and share facts.

Because whether we’re talking about the school district, city or university, how do we move forward properly from Point A to Point B if Point A isn’t where we thought it was?