The Douglas School Board discussed demographics at its Monday meeting. Student enrollment at the Box Elder-based school district, which serves most Ellsworth Air Force Base families, grew from 2012 through 2018 but has declined since (click each chart to embiggen!).
The decline in enrollment coincides with locals making fewer babies. Live births in Pennington and Meade counties, which the Douglas district straddles, peaked early in the last decade but have fallen since, down 14% from peak in Pennington and 25% from peak in Meade.
All those RV voters at America’s Mailbox in Box Elder certainly aren’t putting kids behind the desks in the Douglas district. We’ll have to wait and see how many of those Blue State Refugees whom Governor Kristi Noem has been happily recruiting are of child-bearing age and inclination.
But Douglas School District’s declining enrollment isn’t just a product of less reproduction. In the last three school years, more students moved out of the district than moved in:
Douglas draws an average of 59 K-12 students from every 100 single-family households in the district and 43 students from every 100 multi-family units. Single-family homes in Box Elder have the highest “yield rate”, with every 100 Box Elder single-family homes producing over 70 school-age children, compared to current yield rates below 40 for single-family homes in Rapid City and on Ellsworth. (Note that the yield rate does not mean, for example, that 73% of Box Elder single-family homes send kids to school in Douglas; some homes send two or more kids, meaning the percentage of homes with Douglas students is lower than 73.)
The Douglas School District is banking on the war machine to reverse its enrollment decline. The numbers of new students who may come to town with new personnel brought to Ellsworth to fly and service the new B-21 bombers is hard to predict, but Senator John Thune has said the new instruments of aerial death and destruction could bring “as many as 250 people per year, including 100 dependents.” The Douglas district’s researcher projects total K-12 enrollment could increase by 357 students over the next four years. While the high school has room for more students, Douglas’s elementary and middle schools are already operating a little above capacity; under the district’s projections, enrollment will rise to 121% of elementary building capacity and 117% of middle school building capacity. (Reminder: one B-21 costs $729 million. Harrisburg, perhaps the fastest-growing school district in South Dakota, is building a new elementary school for $30 million. The cost of one B-21 could thus build a new elementary school and pay 20 teachers $60K a year for 580 years.)