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Ten Largest School Districts Teach 51% of South Dakota Public School Kids

The Teacher Compensation Review Board’s final report includes data from Department of Education August slides showing that half of South Dakota’s public school students attend the ten largest school districts in the state:

SD Department of Education, presentation to Teacher Compensation Review Board, 2023.08.21, slide 13.
SD Department of Education, presentation to Teacher Compensation Review Board, 2023.08.21, slide 13.

Those are 2022 figures, so 51.3% of South Dakota’s public school students enrolled in just 6.7% of the state’s 149 school districts. (We have 148 districts now, with the consolidation of not-long-for-this-world Oldham-Ramona-Rutland.)

Students aren’t quite as concentrated as general population. According to 2022 Census estimates, the nine counties those districts serve have 62.1% of South Dakota’s population. Of course, each of those counties have multiple smaller schools outside their main urban districts, so both K-12 student counts and total census counts reflect a strong skew of South Dakota’s population toward a few lucky urban centers (or, in the words of my old neighbor Lee Yager, metropolitan madhouses).

We can see the big skew in student enrollment in the big difference between mean and median enrollment. The mean district size is 927 students, 2.7 times larger than the median enrollment of 339. The districts sitting in the middle of the enrollment distribution are all Class B schools:

SDDOE, 2023.08.21, slide 15.
SDDOE, 2023.08.21, slide 15.

Newly consolidated Oldham-Ramona-Rutland would leap into the middle of that road with its combined 2022 enrollments of 346.


  1. John 2023-09-20 10:09

    There oughta be a law . . . that no state funding allocates to a public school district of fewer than 1,000 students; maybe 1,500 students.

  2. Mike Zitterich 2023-09-20 10:46

    That would be unconstitutional, since “Property Tax” is applied equally on all Landowners of the State of whom places their “land” in the State Jurisdiction. Because of this, the COUNTIES are to ‘assess’ the land values through the Equalization Process, while collecting the ‘tax’ each year from each qualified landowner within its political subdivision, while the COUNTY is instructed to give 65% of the “tax dollars” to each School District based on the proportion of which the law allocates, while the County can hold 20% for County projects, healthcare, the welfare of the county itself, whereas the remaining 15% is to go to each of the Municipalities, Townships, and Local Subdivisions where they request to draw warrants.

    The School Districts themselves act as individual, independent ‘agencies’ themselves each to which collect revenues from a variety of sources – Property Tax Dollars, Federal and State Grants, Federal Monetary Funds allowed by Law, Corporate Bonds, Loans, let alone Contributions, and DOnations from the “residents” themselves, let alone “FEES” charged per services, to which fund specific activities (Lunch, Sports, Field Trips).
    They have the right to set their own budget’s, based on needs and desires of the district themselves, and the “residents” have role in all that.

  3. larry kurtz 2023-09-20 11:12

    If bozos like Zitterich really supported the US Constitution he and Earth haters like him would acknowledge Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment that bars insurrectionists like Donald Trump from the ballot.

  4. scott 2023-09-20 12:47

    Everyone knows, the only amendment the maga’s believe in is the 2nd Amendment.

  5. Donald Pay 2023-09-20 13:31

    Mike Z. is not correct. It would be unconstitutional to not fund small districts, but for other reasons, primarily because the state is constitutionally required to maintain a uniform system of education. The state can, of course, starve education uniformly, which has been Republican Party policy, but even that, in my opinion could be unconstitutional.

    I am former school board member, and I can tell you that school districts are governed by state law and are not completely independent agencies, and neither are counties. Districts can make some decisions on their own, but overall funding is not one of them. They get to make the decisions on what to cut and what to keep after the Governor and Legislature decides the overall figure. District funding is largely at the whim of the Governor and Legislature. Most of the revenue that school districts receive is primarily decided through the state funding formula, and it is not in the neat little percentages Mike Z. states for every district. That way of funding schools would be unconstitutional. The source of about 90 percent of the money districts is from state and local sources. A smaller amount of district funding (generally around 10-12%) may come through federal grants or funding.

  6. P. Aitch 2023-09-20 22:19

    It’s a little hard not to criticize your assumptions and assertions, Mike. May I call you Mike? Thanks. What did your mom do to soothe you and make you comfortable when things got going fast?

  7. jakc 2023-09-20 22:49

    So 35,000+ students are in SF and contiguous districts (Harrisburg & Brandon) and 18,000+ are in RC and contiguous districts (Douglas and Meade). If Box Elder (Douglas) grows as projected it is likely to move up, and Tea, another SF contguous district, is likely to move into the top ten in a few years.
    It would be intetesting to compare this district sizes with sizes from 50 years ago. I would expect the numbers to show that growth in the SF area has been distributed throughout the demographic; that growth in RC leans heavily towards an aging population and that school populations in areas outside of those two has been minimal (or in decline. Indeed, splitting the current districts into K-6 and 7-12 numbers might give us some sense of future growth (and future decline)
    I am amazed at the essential pessimism of SD politicians and rural voters, who (despite such catchy slogans as Freedom Works) seem to regard the decline of rural schools as inevitable and irreversible. What family wants to move to a small town without schools? And, as a practical matter how much more can rural schools consolidate, especially West River. Harding and Perkins counties cover more 5,500 square miles with 3 districts (and part of a 4th with Faith in Meade Counties with maybe 600 students. It just doesn’t seem as if there is really any plan

  8. Donald Pay 2023-09-21 07:12

    Mike Z., there are several funds in the public school budgetary process. They are funded in different ways, but all are largely governed by state or federal law.

  9. Donald Pay 2023-09-21 13:32

    jakc,You are correct. Rapid City has had declining enrollment (with occasional bumps up) since the 1990s. although the 1990s numbers may be a little suspect given they were counted in a different way. The decline over that time has not been at an average rate of 0.5% per year. Rapid City has various parochial schools that siphon off students, as well as home schooling parents. Some of the fluctuation in Rapid City schools is due to movement of Native American families back and forth between the Rapid district and the reservations. Some of that depends on jobs available in both places, as well as family and cultural desires.

  10. jakc 2023-09-22 17:15

    Donald Pay

    The movement of students and families between Rapid City and the reservations, Pine Ridge especially, has led to undercounts for many years, with students often falling through the cracks (just at the declines between grades 9 and 12 at both RC Central and Pine Ridge). I understand some of the practical problems in coordinating between state and BIA schools, but it is a shame that a better job can’t be/hasn’t been done.
    I recognize that the church schools & home schoolers draw off some students but those numbers are partially offset by the closure of St Martens. Still, given the census growth of 25 000 in that same era, the RC schools ought to show some growth rather than decline.
    At least anecdotally, a lot of the growth seems to be driven by an aging population, and an older poulation (say, 50+) returning and retiring to the Hills. It is growth but it makes you wonder how older workers will be replaced and the factors you cite mean, I think, that RC increasingly has a population that favors lower property taxes (not that pt are particularly low now) over public school expansion
    It is not a formula I think for future growth in the school age demographic. Looking at Harrisburg and Brandon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the HS exceed Stevens, and perhaps Central as well, in the next five or ten years ( assuming those districts don’t add second HS). I suppose RC is doing better than Abetdeen or the other nbg East River schools (outside of SF) but that is a pretty low bar.

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