As Business Director for the Whitefish School District, Danelle Reisch’s responsibilities run the gamut.
Her roles include developing and managing the budget, working with human resources, sorting out the district’s finances and serving as clerk to the Whitefish School Board, and a lot of the time her days don’t go as planned.
That’s the fun part, she says.
“It’s a really varied role and that’s one of the things that’s been great about it,” she said. “I told [my replacement Lucie Shea], some days you come in with a plan of what you’re going to do that day and at 2 p.m. that afternoon you finally start it, because so many other things come up. But I like that about it.”
Reisch wrapped up more than 24 years at her post in the school district last month, retiring from working at the district she attended decades ago as a high school student. Lucie Shea will take her over as business director beginning in January.
As a Whitefish High School graduate, Reisch never had accounting or administration work on her mind when she started her studies at Montana State University. Instead, she pursued studies in chemical engineering.
“I was a chemical engineering major, and I think I came to the realization that it was not for me,” she said. “At that time, in the 70s, it was all about oil and gas development and I was like, ‘I don’t think I want to go live in Houston.’”
Reisch returned to college at the University of Montana a decade later and found herself drifting more toward the business and numbers side of things. Out of school, she worked for the Montana Department of Commerce and the Missoula School District before returning to Whitefish.
While originally she never intended on crunching numbers for a living, Reisch said that’s grown to be her favorite part of the job.
“The part I enjoy the most, and it’s probably just because I’m kind of a geek, is the accounting stuff,” she said. “I love working on the budget stuff and doing financial statement prep and that kind of stuff.”
Additionally, she enjoys the opportunities she and others in the district office have to support the teachers across Whitefish schools.
“I kind of view our office as being a support mechanism for the people out in the buildings. I do really appreciate it when we’re able to help somebody out and get them the tools they need to do their job. We’re definitely in a support role,” she said.
The district has changed a lot since she sat in a student desk, she notes, but in some respects it has stayed the same.
For one, the physical schools themselves are different. But curiously, the number of students inside the schools has remained somewhat constant despite Whitefish’s growth in recent decades.
“What’s really fascinating is that people always think our enrollment has changed a lot, and when you go back and look at history, there were 150 kids in my graduating class. There were about 130 in my son’s graduating class in 2016. It really goes [up and down] a lot, but the trend line is pretty stable, which is surprising because the community has grown a lot,” she said.
Reisch also lamented the Whitefish of old, saying while she still loves the town and the community it harbors, today’s resort destination is a far cry from what she remembers.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “It’s not all bad, but it’s very different. It’s a very different community from the one I grew up in. That was just a railroad town, pretty blue collar and pretty level economically — at least that’s my recollection. It didn’t seem like there were vast differences in peoples’ economic levels.”
Reisch will start her retirement in January, but she isn’t quite ready to give up number crunching yet.
She says she’ll return to auditing part time for a private firm, and she’s hoping to get her boots out and put more time into hiking than she’s been able to in recent years.
While she’s happy to start a new phase in her life — and happy to stop attending school board meetings — Reisch says she’s glad she found a rewarding career she can be proud of.
“I really enjoy working in schools. Sometimes there’s not a lot of things you do in a business background that make you feel good about yourself, but working in schools isn’t like that,” she said. “You really feel like you’re contributing to something and working toward a goal of educating our kids, which is so important.”