SL school enrollment down slightly, a ‘blip’ amid growth era

Friday, October 22, 2021

Storm Lake schools enrollment has decreased by 35 students from last year, though the district expects its overall trend of growth to continue.

Iowa school districts submit their enrollment numbers to the state Department of Education on October 1. The number is used to calculate the amount of school funding aid received from the state. Because open enrollment into the district increased by 14 this school year, the district funding will only decline 20 students’ worth.

The certified enrollment number reported by the Storm Lake Community School District is 2,568 students across grades from kindergarten-12th grade.

“Although our numbers were down a little this year, we have seen enrollment growth of about 60 percent over the past three decades. This is remarkable growth for rural Iowa, which has largely experienced declining school enrollment over this period,” district leaders said in a statement this week. “It’s also worth noting that a single-year dip does not necessarily point to a longer-term trend. For example, SLCSD saw enrollment decreases in both 2012 and 2016, with the numbers rebounding the following year in each instance.”

Superintendent Stacey Cole called the decline “a blip in the radar,” citing terminology that had been used by a mentor of hers.

Certified enrollment reported October 1 is also a snapshot in time and does not reflect the fluctuation in enrollment seen throughout the year due a transient population.

“For example, we recognize that Tyson Foods’ Storm Lake operations currently have a number of openings they are working to fill, and therefore we will likely see more families moving into our community,” the district statement explains. “In fact, since we had to report our enrollment to the state, we’re up 13 students in the middle school.” Two more are expected to begin soon.

Although elementary enrollment population is currently down slightly from 2020, student numbers remain close to 200 students over capacity in that building. Even when the new Early Elementary School opens and 170 kindergarteners are moved there, the elementary will be 30 students above capacity.

Some Iowa superintendents are campaigning to base per pupil funding on 2019 numbers - before the pandemic. Supt. Cole said that would hurt Storm Lake finances. The district gained 140 students in 2019, but also gained 80 more in 2020, she said.

Instead, it would serve the district well if it could count students who arrive later in the school year to receive funding for, Cole said.

“Overall, Storm Lake continues to be a growing school district that is proud to be part of a thriving community,” she said. “We expect this trend to continue as we move forward.”