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Douglas School District Hoping Ellsworth B-21s Will Reverse Enrollment Decline

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!).

RSP and Associates, "Planning for the Future: Douglas School District Enrollment Analysis," updated 2022.05.20, p. 12.
RSP and Associates, “Planning for the Future: Douglas School District Enrollment Analysis,” updated 2022.05.20, p. 12; discussed at Douglas school board meeting 2022.09.27.

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.

RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 11.
RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 11.
RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 10.
RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 10.

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:

RSP and Associates, 2022.05.20, p. 14.
RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 14.

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.)

Douglas School District, map showing population density of student home addresses. Purple line along 225th Street shows Pennington/Meade county line. Annotated from RSP, p. 17.
Douglas School District, map showing population density of student home addresses. Purple line along 225th Street shows Pennington/Meade county line. Annotated from RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 17.
RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 21.
RSP, 2022.05.20, p. 21.

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.)


  1. larry kurtz 2022-09-29 06:52

    It was February when Steve Hickey last posted at his blog but in 2016 when a Democrat was POTUS he wanted to shutter Ellsworth.

    A politician in South Dakota who wants to close Ellsworth commits political suicide by saying so. When I was in elected office my private commitment to myself was to be willing to commit political suicide once a year to support the right thing. Many of my Republican colleagues in the legislature were “fiscal conservatives” and would get loud and vocal about Washington DC’s inability to balance the budget. Yet we seemed so oblivious to the depths of cuts it would take to balance the national budget and what that would mean to a little dependant [sic] state like South Dakota, and of course an income tax would never be considered. Never was there talk of cutting Defence spending in DC, ever. And never would anyone support closing a base in our state that brought MONEY and JOBS and PEOPLE into our state. Say goodbye to Ellsworth if you are truly a fiscal conservative and figure out how to wean South Dakota off Federal Dollars.

    Steve Hickey

  2. leslie 2022-09-29 07:12

    Guns or butter? Who yah gonna call?

    Another way to increase school attendance is free lunch. But McConnell and Thune opt to cut lunches but not B-21s for EAFB (the B-21 mission will support a projected 7,700 airmen, spouses, and dependents…

    Thune hasn’t said a single word on twitter about his free lunch since Sept 9 and his billionaire-owned boss Mitch is mum on why Republicans killed free school lunch. Much like transparency-resistant Noem on numerous issues benefiting student welfare.

    Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow, part of Senate Democratic leadership, blamed GOP leadership. “Across America, more than 90 percent of our schools are open and our children are back in the classroom,” Stabenow said, in a statement to POLITICO (see Cory’s link in related post). But unfortunately, Republicans in Congress want to let down our children and their parents. Instead of continuing the bipartisan tools and flexibilities to help safely provide meals to students during school and over the summer, which could easily be done in the omnibus, Republican leadership has said NO and decided that they prefer to let our kids go hungry. This is a disgrace!”

    The Biden administration has indicated it will recommend healthy free lunches for all. But even with the support of broad interest group coalitions, making progress on actual food and nutrition outcomes could still be an uphill battle. Many of the next steps will require congressional action, and final conference recommendations will come just before midterm elections.

    If Democrats retain the House and solidify their hold on the Senate, we could see significant movement on nutrition-related recommendations. That’s because many consider Biden an “above average” lawmaker and bipartisan coalition builder, and bipartisanship remains a necessary element of lawmaking, especially in a polarized era.

    However, if Republicans win the House or the Senate, we may see Biden’s agenda come to a screeching halt, as Republicans have been obstructionist when it comes to Democratic agendas.

    As said, “key Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, opposed extending the waivers as part of the omnibus package, arguing that the waiver was never meant to be permanent and that the $11 billion price tag to extend it for another year wasn’t palatable to Republicans concerned about the deficit increasing.”

  3. sx123 2022-09-29 07:31

    Cool tech but very expensive planes that put SD on the map as a target for nuclear attack.

  4. All Mammal 2022-09-29 12:26

    Republican motto:
    Always plenty of money for war.
    Never enough money to feed the poor.
    We won’t let you vote for your own sake.
    Be a good soldier and we might let you eat cupcake.
    Until we we have no more use for you,
    do as we say-not as we do.

  5. All Mammal 2022-09-29 13:51

    We need to let go of everything we once thought was relevant. Like Leslie proclaimed days ago about the cliff we are approaching full steam ahead- none of this will matter once we tip the planet’s climate passed the event horizon. The issues being argued don’t matter without a future. Its like we are haggling the price of selling our car so we have enough gas money.

    We need to throw a hailMary and dump every ever-lovin thing we have into our kids right now. Give them all our energy if it kills us and prop them up like they are the saviors of humanity and the world we want to continue to live in. They are the hope. Give them the truth and the resources and they will be the solution. Hopefully they don’t conclude they’re better off without the very ones who put their planet in this situation in the first place. That would be funny though, if they turned on us.

    If we put the amount of energy that gets put into one day of Sunday football into saving the Good Earth, put all that shirtless, jeering, face painted sports fan craze into feeding the innocents of the world, we wouldn’t be complete loser disappointments. We might never totally redeem ourselves, but we might add another yard of track to give the kids that much more room to figure out how to stop the train.

  6. Bob Newland 2022-09-29 19:21

    My kids and grandkids think the saviors of humanity are steer-torturers (team ropers) and women-humiliators. And they’re 5/6 women! I prolly was a bad parent.

  7. jakc 2022-09-29 20:57

    it has long been obvious that the growth in Rapid City and environs has been due to aging. 50 years ago, RC Central and Stevens were larger than they are today (just look at class graduation sizes) despite, according to the census figures, having added 25,000 plus (the RC school district going well outide the city limits, though that seems to have changed. I’m not sure how many kids in Hermosa still go to RC schools). In essence, RC added Aberdeen Central, but where are those kids? (RC Christian is new but Thomas More just replaced St Martins in terms of enrollment) In contrast, SF has added three new large HS (Roosevelt, Jefferson and Harrisburg – I know it has been around awhile but only recently has it become a large school), Tea, which will probably move up to the largest class and would be there now if not for the split with Lennox, and BV, analogous I suppose to Douglas/Box Elder, but with far more growth. I would think these things would be of more concern to the leadership of the state. In short SF has been growing, RC is breaking even and most of the rest of the state is losing ground.

    The new plane might save Ellsworth but it won’t turn around the fortunes in the Black Hills. SD likes to tout the scenic wonders of the Hills but the area trails in growth behind many parts of the west with scenic wonders – Boise, Couer d’Alene and Missoula to think of three, and hell, even Gillette has added a second HS and no one ever accused Gillette of being a scenic wonder. (It is far less of a mudhole than 50 years ago).

    RC is for many a nice place to retire or semi-retire, especially for those with roots to the area, but I have not seen much in the way of getting new people to move there or any recognition that this is a problem. Anx while the tax advantages of SD compared to MN IA and NE are overblown, SF has managed to parley that into real growth.

    Kudos on the in depth dive into the numbers on Douglas I would love to see you do this for more schools

  8. All Mammal 2022-09-30 20:58

    Bossman-bad parents never question themselves whether or not they suck. By reflecting upon your parenting, you cannot be a bad parent. Its true. Neil deGrasse Tyson says.
    But really, the camels on the horizon allegory explains it.

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