One of the most important regulations, with regard to school sitings, is the municipal land/cash ordinance. The basic concept is that new developments cause or impose demands on public facilities and services. In order to help mitigate that effect, developers are required to either donate land or cash or both based on a formula adopted by that municipality. Typically the land/cash ordinance will have a formula and chart that states the minimum usable acres for each school classification (Elementary, Jr. High, High School, etc.) and the minimum number of students for each school classification which is used to calculate the land/cash requirement of a developer. Appendix 2, which is the Village of Oswego's Land/Cash Ordinance, is an example.
There are a variety of potential areas of concern associated with this approach and its outcome. The first concern is that the entire premise upon which this formula is based is derived from guidelines that are no longer supported by those who developed the guidelines. The guidelines referenced above were developed by the Council of Educational Facility Planners International(CEFPI). They had recommended large sites for new schools, primarily as a way to maximize cost efficiencies. The CEFPI's old guidelines called for a minimum of one acre of land for every 100 students plus 10 acres for an elementary school, 20 acres for a middle school, and 30 acres for a high school. Thus an elementary school with 600 students would need 16 acres; a middle school with 900 students, 29 acres; and a high school with 2,400 students, 54 acres (CEFPI). Over time these guidelines or formulas based on these guidelines become codified in municipal ordinances throughout the region. However, in 2004 CEFPI revisited those guidelines and now suggest that school districts use a flexible approach that is based on educational and community needs and not on a an acreage formula (CEFPI). Unfortunately, many municipalities in the CMAP region still have a formula in their municipal ordinances that is derived either wholly or partially from an outdated formula.
There are a number of examples of combined elementary and middle schools or Junior High campuses throughout the region. These multi-building campuses help to reduce the total building footprint and can create an environment that is more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. At the same time though, campus sizes of high schools remain a challenge. Many high schools in the suburbs, particularly new ones, are being built on campuses that are often 70 acres or more. A recommended high school size, in terms of acres and building capacity, is not listed in any "best practices" or state law. In fact, it appears to a byproduct of municipal ordinances associated with the land/cash requirement from developers. School districts also have a desire to have as much land as possible to accommodate possible future growth and to have athletic fields for practices.
Another issue is the variation in the land/cash ordinances from one municipality to another. As Table 3 demonstrates, there is a lack of consistency in both the number of students and acres per school classification. Nearly every school district outside the City of Chicago has boundaries which place a school district in more than one municipality, township, and in some cases county. This creates a scenario in which multiple variations of the land/cash ordinance are at play within the same school district. This can lead to variations in land or cash donations, potentially in school sizes and footprint, and complicates the planning process for a school district.
Table 3: Municipal Land/Cash Formulas: Acreage Requirements