The Whitefish School Board last week approved a $22.3 million budget for the 2019-2020 school year, a slight 2.8 percent increase over the previous year.
The district’s total general fund budget for the upcoming school year is roughly $14.2 million, a $430,000 or 3.1% increase over last year’s budget. The general fund is the chief operating fund of the school district.
The total general fund budget for the elementary district in 2019-2020 is $316,700 more than last year — a 3.5% increase — bringing the total to $9.6 million.
Instruction expenditures see a $413,000 increase over last year for a total instruction budget of $6.5 million, making up the largest chunk of the general fund expenditures at 67 percent. Teacher salaries increase nearly 10%, or $480,000, bringing the total elementary district teacher salary budget to $5.3 million.
In the high school district, the 2019-2020 general fund budget amounts to $4.5 million, a $213,500 or 4.8% increase over the previous year.
Instruction totals 61% of the budget with an increase of $222,600 — an 8.5% increase over last year. That puts the total at $2.8 million for instruction. Teacher salaries also got a $200,000, or 9.7%, boost, bringing the total to $2.3 million and 65% of salaries in the high school district.
District Business Clerk Lucie Shea noted salaries and benefits in the general fund budget now make up 90.6% of the entire general fund budget, a total of $12.9 million.
Historically that number has floated between 85% to 88%, she said, and budgeting gets troublesome once that number eclipses 90%.
“We are approaching a very dangerous zone. If you look at the history going back 10 or 11 years, we have never been this high,” she said.
Trustee Betsy Kohnstamm said the situation isn’t unique to Whitefish, however, and legislators in Helena need to be hearing about budget issues.
“Those are numbers we have to go to the legislature with all the time. The legislature has to keep seeing this. This is not just us, this is the whole state,” she said.
Shea also pointed to tax increment finance fund payments from the City of Whitefish as an area of concern in the future. The TIF district sunsets in 2020 and when that occurs it will leave the district with more than $1 million in funding to come up with annually.
“That $1 million-plus that we’ve been getting, this is the last year we will get that, and now is the time to start thinking ahead — how do we bring that money back?” Shea said. “It will probably have to be in the form of a building levy. I’m just putting it out there, we need to think about it in the winter and the spring before we go into our next election.”
Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said she’d like to see some solutions in place by the spring of 2021, and communication with the public on what TIF is and how the maintenance of district facilities is funded will be key.
The district received $1.1 million in TIF funds from the city during the 2018-19 school year, which helped to fund the high school roof replacement and office remodel.
The slight increase in the budget for both districts is the result of small legislative increases and larger student enrollment, Shea explained to the board.
The previous year’s budget was calculated based an enrollment of 1,322 in the elementary district and 498 in the high school. This upcoming school year’s budget is based on enrollment numbers of 1,355 in the elementary and 539 in high school, Shea said.
The small legislative increase comes from House Bill 159, signed in February, that gives schools a 0.91% inflationary increase in funding.
The district also gets a boost from voter-approved levies in May, which add an elementary levy of $50,975 to support general operations and a pair of technology levies amounting to $321,600 in the elementary district and $158,400 in the high school district.
Certified staff district-wide also receive a salary increase of 3% as part of negotiations. That increase includes longevity stipends for the district’s veteran staff.
Classified staff negotiations lead to a $1 per hour raise.
The budget also includes contingency for a future Muldown teacher, and additional teachers in sixth grade (1 FTE), seventh/eighth grade and high school (1.5 FTE). An additional .2 FTE for a nurse is also included. An FTE, or full-time equivalent, is the hours worked by one employee on a full-time basis.