Determining how many new students a district will have and when to open new schools is no light task, but the School Facilities Board hopes the addition of a staff demographer will help.
The board is tasked with awarding funding for new schools in the state. Acting director John Arnold said there are downsides to opening a school too early or too late.
“I wanted that broader context in which to make funding decisions today to help districts build better planning models,” Arnold said, adding that the new demographer brings “into the agency a whole slew of tools that we weren’t even really aware of.”
Jim Chang, who joined the facilities board in May, has a Ph.D. in sociology, and master’s degrees in information management and sociology.
A demographer’s job is to study the population, statistics and trends. In his position with the board, Chang tries to make projections and forecasts for new school construction using census data and working with government agencies at the state and county level.
School districts seeking funding for new schools turn in capital plans to the board, including projections of how many students they will have over the next few years.
“We verify and see if those numbers are realistic, if those numbers conform to trends that we see,” Chang said.
Chang said in addition to analyzing individual district projections, he is also looking at the “big picture,” to see the trends statewide or in a particular region or county.
Currently, Chang is analyzing data for Maricopa County over the past 15 years to determine the correlation between housing completions and enrollment increases.
“For a new development, we might know from a developer how many units they’re developing. So how do they translate that into new student enrollment?” Chang said.
While Chang hasn’t fully analyzed the data yet, it appears that in Gilbert, for instance, for each 100 housing units added, there were more new students than in other areas in the Valley.
These types of patterns, determined by many variables in population demographics, including religion, are what Chang is seeking.