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School board approves $24 million budget

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | August 18, 2021 1:00 AM

The Whitefish School Board last week unanimously approved the school district budget for the 2021-22 school year.

District Business Director Lucie Shea told the board in the meeting that a couple errors from the preliminary draft budget were corrected as well as some additional dollars allocated to the debt service fund. These changes increased the total district budget to $24.1 million in the final document; the preliminary budget had predicted the total at $23.9 million.

No changes were made to the general fund budget, which is $15.175 million between the elementary and high school districts.

Looking at the total budget funds, the district will see a dip in funds of around $400,000 from last year to the upcoming school year.

“The big picture, $24.1 million for all those budgeted funds is about $400,000 less than budgeted last year,” Shea told the board. “We had about $24.5 million all together (last year), and you know why that is, it’s the TIF money that’s not coming this year.”

The main difference between last year’s financial numbers and the budget for the upcoming school year is the lack of additional funds from the city’s tax increment financing, Shea noted. The TIF funds, which had provided the school district with a total of $12.5 million since the beginning of the TIF district in 1987 until it ended last year, mainly went to the maintenance and improvement of school district facilities.

TIF funds received by the district had totaled up to $1 million per year on some occasions; in 2020 the district received around $570,000 from the city’s tax increment financing district.

The main difference between the preliminary and final budgets was an increase in the debt service fund, which consists of the money used to pay for the district’s bond debt and special improvement district payments. With elementary and high school districts combined, the increase from the draft budget to the final in this fund was $150,000. That money is budgeted to pay off more bond interest.

Shea said a correction was also made in the elementary tuition budget line that was listed on the budget overview page. On the preliminary budget, the line item was $63,000 less than it should have been which also contributed to the increased amount in the total budget.

The district did receive some inflationary increases from the state and will have other grants and funds that will help make up the slight dip in funds from the 2020-21 school year.

The district also decided to not run a voter-approved levy on the school election ballot this spring, but did add a permissive levy for the building reserve fund which had minimal impact on taxpayers. The board in March approved a $3,800 increase in the elementary district and a $5,400 increase in the high school district.

The levy for the building reserve fund is expected to help replace some of the funding previously received from the city’s TIF fund, the district notes.