Facilities study: L-D schools enrollment projected to decline over next decade

The key takeaway listed in facilities consultant Foster Jacobs & Johnson, Inc.’s population review portion of a student enrollment projection states that even if near-term projections show an increase in population, a decade from now, enrollment is estimated to be 170 fewer students. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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LEAD — The first step in the upcoming Lead-Deadwood School District’s facilities study confirms what district officials have known for some time.

A look into student enrollment projections by consulting firm Foster Jacobs & Johnson, Inc. recently revealed that projected student enrollment is expected to continue to decline to around 513 in 2025-2026, from the 682 tally taken during the 2015-16 school year, nearly a 170-student dip.

Superintendent Dr. Dan Leikvold said that when the school district hired Foster, Jacobs, and Johnson, Inc. to conduct an in-depth review of the district’s facilities, a closer look at enrollment projections was the first major order of business.

“Those data will be helpful in our long term planning,” Leikvold said. “The report is on the Lead-Deadwood School District website for anyone who wishes to see it.”

Other highlights of the student enrollment projection include a decline in average class sizes, as follows: K-5 from 56 in 2015-2016 to 43 in 2025-2026; middle school from 47 to 37 students; and high school, from 52 to 36. The primary demographic dynamics indicate a modest increase in population, but not in households with children and flattening in number of births.

Factors considered in the projection include: pattern of student enrollment change within the district; trends in adjacent districts including open enrollment exchanges; economic activity and population change and development pattern for Lawrence County; patterns of births relative to district kindergarten enrollment including projected births.

Assumptions made for the projection include: no change in school district boundary; current open enrollment dynamic continues; county population is expected to grow modestly with the Lead-Deadwood district not growing as much, especially in terms of households with children; incoming kindergarten classes reflect a sustained level of county births at just over 200 per year and continuation of Lead-Deadwood’s current proportion of county births.

The report overview states that over the past 10 years, the district has seen a 14 percent decline. Further, the average size of K-5 classes rose in response to the peak births in 2004-2007 and then declined from 54 to 61 to 56; average 6-8 sizes declined from 64 to 47 and grade 9-12 sizes from 70 to 52. This enrollment decline was driven by fewer students living in the district. The estimated “pool” of resident K-12 students dropped from 813 to 692, or, 15 percent.

The report says that open enrollment has been a minor factor in total enrollment, with relatively few students opting to enroll elsewhere or enter the district. Over the past three years, the district has averaged 39 resident students going to other districts and 29 coming in, for an average net loss of 10 students.

Finally, projected K-12 enrollment is expected to continue to decline to around 513 in 2025-2026.

Delving into the data further, the general findings of a student location analysis indicate that two-thirds of students live in Lead, Lead has 65.6 percent of the students, the rural southern part of the district has 10.9 percent and Deadwood has 10.2 percent.

Key findings of a population review with data sources listed as the US Census, State Department of Labor & Regulations and a Lead-Deadwood Housing Study indicate that as Lawrence County’s population has grown, the proportion of the people living within the Lead-Deadwood School District has decreased from 37.5 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2015.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of children ages 0-14 declined by 1 percent in Lawrence County as a whole, but by 19.1 percent within the Lead-Deadwood market area.

Within the market area, the number of people ages 25-44, the prime family generation age group, declined by 25.1 percent from 2000 to 2010.

For the Lead-Deadwood market area, the anticipated change in households by age-group between 2010 and 2020 is heavily weighted toward older households. While only 20 new households between the ages of 15-44 are expected, 367 are expected for households ages 55 to 74, plus another 45 for those 75 and older. The 45-54 age group is expected to decline by 184 households.

Foster, Jacobs and Johnson, Inc. indicate that the aforementioned are projections, not predictions, relying on assumptions regarding the best understanding of district dynamics such as open enrollment and future births. They further assert that in most cases, the projections get the trend and magnitude of change right, but the unexpected can happen.

When the firm made their presentation to the Lead-Deadwood School District, securing their spot as the company chosen to lead the district’s facilities study, FJJ Managing Principal Mike Hubbard indicated exploration of several different challenging options the district could pursue: one, remain status quo, which would be a decision to defer to future boards; two, renovate existing schools, including the elementary; three, build a new elementary school in the district; or four, relocate the elementary school to Lead and build an addition to the existing middle school.

“The next step will be to engage staff, students, and the public to seek input on how future enrollment, programming and educational environment will impact what our facilities will look like as time passes,” Leikvold said. “Those meetings will be held the last two weeks of September and we hope we get a lot of participation.”

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