WBSD student enrollment rises for 3rd year

Open enrollment data shows more students coming into the rural district than going out
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Preliminary numbers from the state show that Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District’s student population is going up at a time when rural school districts are seeing a decline.

Superintendent Garrett Rogowski told the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School Board on Sept. 25 the total enrollment across all grades was 1,166, nine more students than the 2022-23 school year. Wittenberg Elementary-Middle School and Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School saw enrollment increases of 22 and seven, respectively. Birnamwood Elementary-Middle School saw a reduction of 20 students on its rolls.

WEMS is seeing higher student counts than BEMS, for the most part, with 44 students in Wittenberg’s 4-year-old kindergarten and 26 in Birnamwood’s, and 52 students in the 5-year-old kindergarten for Wittenberg versus 36 for Birnamwood. The only point where the student count gap closes and flips is in fourth grade, where Birnamwood has 40 students in the grade while Wittenberg has 39.

The school district is also on the positive end of the open enrollment count, another anomaly among rural school districts. According to the preliminary numbers, there are 160 students coming into the school district from outside the area, but only 128 living in the district but attending schools in other communities.

The counts were done Sept. 15 as part of the annual third Friday count the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires each year to determine how much aid a school district receives for its classroom instruction, school programs and more. With a full-time student counting for at least $11,000 in state aid, every student can count when it comes to keeping the lights on and the schools moving forward.

Rogowski believes the student enrollment will continue to rise as things grow within Wittenberg itself. S.C. Swiderski is working with the Village of Wittenberg on a housing development with construction of the first building expected to break ground next spring. Any new tenants with families could potentially boost the number of students in the schools.

“We do project that our enrollment will continue to increase from families moving in,” Rogowski said. “That’ll be good for us.”

Rogowski said it’s a good sign that student counts are trending positively for all grade levels. He noted it has been something that Witt-Birn has seen in the last three years.

“We’re really seeing it in open enrollment, primarily through the K-8 levels, and then a little bit at the high school, but we’ve really been able to adequately accommodate those, too, so that’s been good for us,” Rogowski said. “As long as we can keep doing that without impacting programming, it makes a difference.”

Even with Witt-Birn’s smaller size, the school district offers a lot of programs that attract families to the west end of Shawano County, according to Rogowski, who cited as examples the arts and co-curricular activities.

“That’s been at K-8 and the high school, so that’s been attractive to our neighbors,” Rogowski said. “Additionally, we’ve gained some support from a lot of families that are moving back now, and we’re seeing our graduates stay and our graduates come back if they leave us. I think that’s something in rural Wisconsin that you’re not always experiencing.”

One demerit that Rogowski said works against the school district is the lack of child care facilities and programs in the area.

“We have some community members that do a great job, but not having a larger scale child care offering does affect us, and those families have said, ‘We’re going to go to Weston or Wausau because they have what I need for child care while I’m at work,’” he said. “That’s something that we’re looking into.”

Final student counts will be certified in October, just in time for the school board to approve the 2023-24 budget on Oct. 23.