You probably won’t hear any rumors St. George Elementary School near Bourbonnais is closing.
Since 2003, the school’s enrollment has about doubled. The school district expanded the building 15 years ago and now is planning another addition.
Lorenzo R. Smith School in Pembroke Township is just the opposite, with its enrollment plummeting by nearly 50 percent since 2003. Just last week, a rumor circulated on social media suggesting the school may close, a report the district's superintendent batted down right away.
|School district||2003||2008||2013||2018||% change|
|St. Anne Elementary||407||372||313||347||-15%|
|St. Anne High||306||243||243||217||-29%|
|St. George Elementary||245||448||470||447||82%|
Pembroke Township’s median household income is less than half the state’s.
“There is no secret that the population of Hopkins Park and Pembroke Township is declining. There is not much of an economy. A lot of people are moving out of the community,” Superintendent Marcus Alexander said in a recent interview. “The school district is impacted.”
St. George and Pembroke are the outliers in the Daily Journal’s analysis of enrollment data from the dozen school districts based in Kankakee County.
According to state figures, many school districts outside the Chicago metropolitan area have seen dramatic declines in enrollment. But in Kankakee County, total enrollment dropped by just 1 percent since 2003. It has been rising the last few years.
In 2018, 17,797 students were enrolled in the county’s schools, down from 18,006 in 2003. About 30 percent of the county’s students attend class in the Kankakee school district, which saw a 2 percent decrease during the period.
Other major districts have seen increases since 2003 — Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, 15 percent; Manteno, 10 percent; Bourbonnais elementary, 4 percent; and Bradley elementary, 2 percent.
Pembroke is a feeder into the St. Anne elementary and high school districts, which saw declines of 15 and 29 percent, respectively.
Others small rural schools also dropped — Herscher by 20 percent; Grant Park, 12 percent; and Momence, 9 percent.
Gregg Murphy, superintendent of the Regional Office of Education for Kankakee and Iroquois counties, said the statistics show stable enrollment overall, but some schools are seeing big increases.
“That does harken back to development and work going on in Manteno, Bourbonnais and St. George areas. You attract business, and school enrollment will follow,” he said.
In 2018, the expansions of local plants such as CSL Behring and Nucor were among the largest in the state, with the expectation of increased hiring. Kankakee County also experienced the greatest percentage job growth of any area in the state last year.
Tim Nugent, executive director of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said the figures tell him that while older people may move to Florida or Arizona after retirement, many younger families choose to stay.
“That speaks positively for employment around here,” Nugent said. “People can still work here and make a living, then potentially retire to a different climate. Younger families are involved in a lot of activities. Bringing in young families keeps the area vibrant.”