Whitefish draws more students than it loses

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Whitefish Schools is attracting more students to attend class here than it is losing to other public schools, statistics on student enrollment trends show.

Whitefish Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt presented a compilation of out-of-district student numbers in the past several years and shared her conclusions with the school board during its Dec. 11 meeting.

For the 2018-19 school year, the district has 93 out-of-district students attending classes here. An out-of-district student is one who lives within one school district, but attends school within another district.

Muldown Elementary School has the most out-of-district students enrolled at 43, while Whitefish Middle School has 28 and Whitefish High School 22.

There are 82 students who live in the Whitefish district, but attend public school elsewhere.

In addition, the elementary district has 141 students who are attending private school this year and 73 are home-schooled. At the high school, six students are at private schools, while 13 are home-schooled.

Davis Schmidt said the district’s net enrollment has seen a shift when comparing students who leave Whitefish to attend another public school.

“Between 2009 through 2015-16, we had a significant number of students net out from the high school,” Davis Schmidt said. “We were exporting more students out than we were bringing into the school district, by significant numbers. You’ll still see at the high school we’re still exporting more students than we’re bringing in, but that number is significantly reduced. What that says to me is we’re maintaining our students.”

A positive net in/out number means more students are coming in rather than leaving, and a negative shows more students living in Whitefish attending other public schools.

For example, in the 2013-14 school year the district’s total net in/out was negative 18 students. That number grew to negative 45 the next year, but jumped to the positives starting in 2016-17.

Since 2016-17, the district has had net in/out totals of positive 30, 30 and 28 students.

The high school still operates at a net negative with regard to out-of-district students in relation to public schools, but those numbers have decreased from negative 48 in 2014-15 to just negative four this year.

For the current school year, the Kalispell elementary district has 162 students attending school in another public school, and 153 students in the Columbia Falls elementary district who attend outside the district in another public school, according to a report by the Flathead County Superintendent of Schools.

In the high school districts, 85 Kalispell district students and 32 Columbia Falls students attend school in a public district different than where they reside, according to the county report.

During the school board meeting, the prospect of charging tuition to out-of-district students came up as well.

Davis Schmidt said while Kalispell schools charge $300 per out-of-district student and Missoula schools $1,200 per student, charging students coming into Whitefish would have negligible effects.

The district receives state funding based on enrollment already, using a formula that counts out-of-district students as part of the total enrolled.

If revenue was gained from tuition charges, district Business Director Danelle Reisch said, that money would offset tax revenue and not be usable for other budget items the district might be interested in.

“It would be additional revenue that the district would receive but it doesn’t increase the budget authority,” Reisch said. “So you don’t gain the ability to spend it — it actually goes to offset tax revenue. It doesn’t actually add an additional revenue stream. It’s money coming in but you can’t spend it.”

Reisch said in a hypothetical case where 100 out-of-district students are charged $300 each for tuition, the $30,000 generated would reduce the levy by about .5 mills. The annual taxpayer impact, based on a $100,000 taxable home value, would be a reduction of about 71 cents.

Davis Schmidt also said out-of-district staff members would be subject to the same tuition fees as students in such a scenario.

Across all schools, 17 staff members work in Whitefish, but live outside the district.

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