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Whitefish School Board approves 2023-24 district budget

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | August 16, 2023 1:00 AM

After brief discussion, the Whitefish School Board approved the final budget for the upcoming school year at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

There were few changes to the final budget from the preliminary version that was presented by Whitefish School District Clerk Lucie Shea in July. Shea said at the meeting last week that there were just a few minor errors she found when combing through the numbers and those were corrected. Additionally, she increased the estimated interest earnings on the district’s general fund because after receiving the last interest payment in early July the estimate was too conservative.

These light changes barely altered the overall budget which is just over $25 million, up slightly from the previous year which had a budget of $24.9 million.

The elementary funds make up about $16.9 million and the high school funds total around $8.2 million. The combined elementary and high school general fund is budgeted for about $16.2 million, up from around $15.7 million from the previous year’s actual budget. Instruction costs make up about 60-65% of the general fund budget in both the elementary and high school funds.

Many general fund increases are due to negotiated staff and teacher salary increases.

Although the budget is up slightly from the previous year, the revenue has also increased. Revenue increased by about 3-3.5%.

In the final budget summary, Shea says during the Montana Legislature earlier this year, public schools were awarded an inflationary funding increase of 2.7% for the 2023-24 school year. The inflationary funding increase, combined with funding increases due to higher student enrollment, results in a revenue increase of about $370,000 for the elementary district and about $159,000 for the high school district.

“As the 68th Montana Legislature met during the first half of 2023, public education was one of the most important areas of the legislative session both from the fiscal and policy perspectives…” Shea wrote. “Even though the increase may not be enough to offset all of the increase in the cost of goods and services in the current economic environment, it certainly provides at least a partial relief.”

The district says the cost of goods and services is predicted to remain a challenge for the next budget cycle. Inflation rates both regionally and nationally have eased as of late, however, it remains high at about 4%. In the preliminary school budget, a 4% increase is applied to the majority of non-personnel expenditures.

The district also will have a revenue increase of about $231,000 for the 2023-24 school year. This comes from a general fund operating levy that was approved by Whitefish School District voters in May. The district says the additional funding is crucial for the next school year as several new positions are being created to cope with the rising student enrollment.

The district’s emergency Covid relief funds will also sunset in September 2024. For this reason, the district has begun phasing out some temporary positions and absorbing other positions into the general fund.

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