Principal Daniel Fischer greets students as they arrive off the bus for the first day of school on Thursday, August 27, at Discovery Elementary School in Sioux Falls. (Photo: Erin Bormett / Argus Leader)
The Sioux Falls School District expected to significantly pass 25,000 students this year, but instead officials say they’re seeing a decline in enrollment and that could put a ding on how the district handles funding for the 2021-2022 school year.
The district initially projected having an additional 200 students compared to last year’s overall enrollment of 25,311. Instead, the district dropped by about as many, according to an initial enrollment report given to the Sioux Falls school board Monday night.
Including Pre-K, Sioux Falls schools had 25,164 students as of the fourth day of school. Numbers won’t be finalized until the end of September.
“We knew there would be some variability, and I was actually pleased that it wasn’t fewer than what we were anticipating it might be,” Superintendent Jane Stavem said after the meeting. “The hard part is just kind of not knowing what that will look like next year.”
The district came out on top with its budget last fiscal year, bringing in more than $2 million in extra general fund revenue and saving more than $3.9 million in expenses. That was partly because of cost-cutting measures made when schools went remote in March and also because fall enrollment in 2019 was higher than projected, Business Manager Todd Vik said.
Vik said the district will have to be cautious because the fewer students the district has, the more state aid will go down.
“Our state aid is based on our fall enrollment,” Vik said. “It’s not only lower than it was last year, but we also projected about an increase of 200, so we’re going to feel it this year in our funding from the state.”
The biggest change came at the kindergarten through fifth grade level, with a nearly 400-student difference. Sixth through eighth grade inched up by 54 students and ninth through 12th grade climbed by 190. The district’s pre-k program lost five, while the junior pre-k program gained three.
“We’re trying to be cautious so we don’t spend all new federal money right away, and then in spring we run out of money,” Vik said.
The district also saw a slight decrease in enrollment for its new virtual academy, meant to offer an alternative learning model for those who are impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The district started the academy with 3,004 students, but had 2,659 after a recent deadline that allowed students to return to in-person learning if they felt virtual learning wasn’t for them.
And more than 650 students opted for homeschooling this year, up from 430 last year, school officials said.
“We had a lot of families that had to make some really tough choices this year,” Stavem said.
Stavem said given what parents were asked to do in March when schools moved to remote learning, some may have realized keeping their child home was what was best for their family or some may have had major needs to keep family members safe.
“We respect that, and we hope always that families will come back to Sioux Falls schools, but we also know they must do what’s right for them,” Stavem said.
School board members suggested putting out a survey to help the district better understand potential staffing and classroom needs as the following school year comes around.
Stavem said those conversations could start happening soon.
“We’re all shocked at how fast the year is progressing,” she said.
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