Simplified: Growth in Sioux Falls has been a common refrain for years now, but for the Sioux Falls School District, enrollment numbers aren't showing growth so much as a plateau.
Why it matters
- For awhile there, it wasn't unheard of to see 300-400 new students each year in the district. In fact, that level of growth is what prompted a historic $180 million bond for new schools back in 2018. But now, the last of those new schools has broken ground, and it appears the district's enrollment is beginning to level off.
- There's still more kids in classrooms this fall than last – an increase of 90 year-over-year for a total initial enrollment of just over 24,300. And, notably, both elementary and middle school enrollments are virtually flat, if not slightly down, meaning growth is really only happening at the high school level.
- Enrollment increases in elementary school is a better predictor of growth, Director of Data Services Doug Morrison said. That's evident in neighboring districts like Harrisburg, Brandon and Tea – all of which reported higher enrollment in the younger grades. For high schoolers, it's harder to pinpoint the reasons behind the higher numbers.
"Maybe this year we just have more kids that are hanging around trying to work harder to graduate," Morrison said. "Or the timing of when they drop out has changed. I don't think it's really anything other than that."
So why aren't Sioux Falls schools growing?
Well, it's not really fair to say they aren't growing. They're just growing slower than they used to because most of the new people moving to town are moving outside of the Sioux Falls School District boundary.
- Sioux Falls itself has about a half-dozen school districts within city limits.
- The city itself is still growing, but the growth is largely on the edge of town. That's why places like Tea are seeing about a 5% enrollment increase (per early data from Superintendent Jennifer Lowery) compared to Sioux Falls' 0.4% increase.
There are still pockets, namely the southeast and northwest parts of town, where the Sioux Falls School District will continue to see growth because there's still room for more housing units.
- That's what's prompting a new elementary school on the west side of town near George McGovern Middle school.
But, because the district's boundaries aren't likely to change in a drastic way anytime soon, there just isn't really room for hundreds more kids to keep joining each year.
"We are right where we thought we would be," Morrison said, adding that even when the bond was in discussion, the district expected it would be building its final middle and high schools.
What happens next?
The district broke ground on a new elementary school earlier this month.
- It's possible that once development fills in the far west side of town, another elementary school will be needed.
But, with the exception of projects to renovate or replace aging buildings in the core – i.e. Whittier Middle School – Morrison said it's likely this is the start of the district enrollment leveling out to where it'll be long-term.