Enrollment in the Watertown Public Schools expected to decline

WATERTOWN, S.D.(KXLG)- The number of students enrolled in the Watertown School District is expected to decline over the next five years, according to figures presented during this week’s Watertown school board meeting.

That’s a big deal for the district since each student means more than $7,000 in revenue toward the over $133 million budget.

South Dakota’s population is growing at the fifth-fastest rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Watertown’s population is also on the rise. So how does that translate into lower school enrollment?

School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Danielsen said the numbers, on the surface, can be misleading.

School board members were told the projected decline in enrollment is based on the number of local births. And while South Dakota has one of the highest birth rates in the United States, it has been falling in recent years. As early as 2017, South Dakota’s birthrate was 15.4 per 1,000 population. According to World Population Review, the birth rate has fallen more than 12 percent this year.

One factor Danielsen said was not a significant drag on Watertown’s enrollment is South Dakota’s open enrollment system, which allows students to attend schools other than the district in which they live. While some Watertown youth attend some of the smaller area school districts for various reasons, it’s not enough to hurt Watertown schools, he said.

Danielsen did say the district plans on doing more marketing to stress the benefits of attending Watertown schools. That job has become more difficult in recent years with the demise of the local newspaper.