Whitewater student enrollment on the upswing

      Bucking trends at the height of the pandemic, student enrollment counts in the Whitewater Unified School District are on the rise, officials announced recently.

      Business Manager Ben Prather discussed this fall’s student counts within WUSD at the most recent School Board meeting. The data Prather shared was based on the counts taken in mid-September and reported to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

      “The count was up this year,” Prather said as he shared the data at the Oct. 24 board meeting.

      “We increased 87 students this year over last fall,” he added. “If you look back at 2020-21, we’re at 164 more students, so this is an encouraging trend. We’re seeing more students come into the district.”

      Total 2022-23 school year enrollment totaled 1,968 students in September, compared to 1,881 students at the same point last year.

      WUSD had recorded a marked decline in enrollment in the 2020-21 school year when school closures and other COVID-19 mitigation measures were at their height.

      During some of the district’s virtual meetings, parents had periodically used the board’s public comment portion of the agenda to indicate they were open enrolling their students in neighboring districts that offered in-person options.

      More recent data indicates the trend is reversing. Of the open enrollment scenarios, more students are enrolling into WUSD, rather than the reverse.

      Students living within WUSD’s geographic boundaries and attending school elsewhere are attending multiple neighboring districts.

      According to the data Prather shared, Elkhorn is the largest recipient of Whitewater-area open enrollees. A total of 82 students within WUSD open enroll into that community’s district.

      Whitewater-area parents also are opting to send their students to Fort Atkinson, where there are 43 WUSD-based students open enrolling, and Milton, which has 36 WUSD-based open enrollees.

      While tracking student data helps with day-to-day logistics at each of WUSD’s schools, across all grade levels, the information also plays hand-in-glove into the district’s overall financials.

      “That is a major driver of our budget,” Prather said of tracking enrollment data. “It’s instrumental to all schools’ budgets.”

      WUSD’s membership counts also are following a similar upward trajectory, which will help its balance sheet in the years ahead if Wisconsin’s existing revenue limit formula stays the same.

      “Membership,” unlike “enrollment,” reflects the actual number of school-age students living within WUSD’s geographic boundaries. It includes students who attend WUSD, as well as those are who home schooled, open enroll out of the district or attend a private or parochial school.

      According to Prather’s data, this year’s total student membership stood at 2,117 students, which is an increase of 28 students from last year’s count of 2,089 students.

      WUSD will not see positive financial data from this specific uptick in this year’s school year budget, but it does bode well for future planning, Prather said.

      “We won’t see this actual increase, in the revenue limit formula (for this year), but in three years, it will get clumped into it,” he said.

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