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More data, more questions

OXFORD– They know how many kids are in seats now, and where those seats are. What they don’t know is how many more are coming, or when.
The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Facilities Committee held their second meeting Monday, Nov. 12, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford, a school recently closed to open enrollment and the second in the district to do so due to lack of space. Committee Co-Chairs Malinda Lamb and Laura Kay Sheely distributed a revised proposed timeline, including data through the month of November.
“We want to get as much education as we can on exactly where we are today, where we think we’re going, based on the numbers, so we can try and decide from that what our real needs are within the district.” Sheely said. Additional data is continuing to be collected, she added.
“As that data comes in, you’re out there talking in the community, really engaging with the public about what we’re talking about here, sharing with your friends, and hearing back from them about what they think we need to accommodate those numbers,” said Sheely.
Sheely said after the October meeting, the committee felt like it was already behind in the process. The timeline was reconfigured to help ease the pressure, but still in keeping with what needs to be done prior to a potential fall 2013 bond referendum.
The committee welcomed Professor Gerard Rushton, Ph.D. from the University of Iowa’s Geography Department, an expert in data collection in the field of human geography and population patterns.
By way of an introduction, Dr. Rushton told the group of a similar problem faced by the Iowa City Community School District in 1979, when a number of schools were to be closed. Several experts mapped out what they saw as enrollment trends, expecting to have 450 kindergartners entering the schools in 1985. Rushton disagreed with their results, and scribbled out his computations on an envelope; Rushton’s calculations told him it would 740, a significant difference of opinion. The actual number in 1985 turned out to be 742.
“How could three people be so wrong?” Rushton asked. The answer was found in a census mandated by the Iowa legislature, to be conducted every three years. A built-in bias in their counting led to the error. The bottom line, Rushton said, was the experts had bad data coming in.
“What you have to watch for when you make these demographic projections is the quality of the information you are putting in.” Rushton said. Technology has expanded to allow the creation of a very detailed digital file of Johnson County, including the characteristics of every home, how many bedrooms it has, its assessed value and how many children are living in each house.
“We can look at the age of the house, we can start categorizing together groups of houses and say ‘these are houses that have had children in the last five years. How many children to they have? And in what grades?’” Rushton said this information allows him to determine the year they are likely to have a first-grader within a certain probability. The school enrollments come in waves, he said, are cyclical in nature. “This makes it very difficult for schools, particularly in urban areas when they have waves of students,” he said.
Rushton said since they have many North Liberty homes already connected, he thinks an accurate estimate can be made for that growth area.
“You really have to have a history of data, and you don’t have that,” on the west side of the district, Rushton said. Since there is capacity at Amana Elementary, Rushton said not focusing the study on the western end of the district will save time and money. “For now, we will concentrate on the Johnson County side, where you already have this digital file and we can match your data to it.”
Complicating the equation is the mobility factor, or people moving in and out of the district. Rushton has found the less time spent in a house, the higher the odds the occupants will move. This factor affects the number of kids who advance from one grade to another.
Rushton said a preliminary report could be ready in time for the December meeting, with a final report probably ready in January.
Sheely told the committee it was understood Rushton’s data would be from the Johnson County side in part due to Iowa County not having the same type of data, but also because of space availability at Amana Elementary and the tremendous growth on the eastern side.
“We recognize that we are having growth throughout the district, but most of the increased numbers, and where we most need to focus our attention, where we most need to place kids, is on the Johnson County side,” Sheely said.
Rushton’s fee for the service is $4,000, payable to the University of Iowa. Superintendent Denise Schares was expected to bring a contract to the school board, for approval, at their November meeting on Monday, Nov. 19.
The committee plans to meet again in December to discuss the results of the enrollment projection study, and a January meeting will be the time to finalize data. The committee’s goal is to make recommendations to the board in February. However, Sheely and Lamb stressed flexibility is built into the timeline if more time is needed.
The December meeting is set for Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m. in Oxford at Clear Creek Elementary in the cafeteria. The committee has a web page with a link on the district’s home page at www.cca.k12.ia.us.