Increased enrollment prompts budget amendment for district

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The Whitefish School Board on Nov. 12 started a two-part process for budget amendments that would address higher-than-expected enrollment and upcoming maintenance projects.

In the first budget amendment, Whitefish School District Business Director Lucie Shea explained that the high school district’s fall enrollment count was 8%, or 39 students, higher than the spring enrollment count.

Because the 2019-2020 budget did not plan for the enrollment boost, the high school’s general fund is eligible for an additional $118,00 in direct state aid. The direct state aid will come as a one-time payment and will not increase the approved budget for the school year.

The May enrollment count showed 539 students in the high school, including the independent high school, compared to 578 in the fall.

Enrollment count happens in the spring and fall, and numbers tend to be higher in the fall, Shea said.

“It’s always prudent to ask for that budget amendment in the fall and not in the spring, because you will always have fewer students in the spring due to early graduates or kids that drop out,” Shea said. “That number is always a little bit lower in the spring, so it’s good to do it now.”

The board signed a petition to go to the Office of Public Instruction for approval. If approved, the budget amendment will return to the school board next month for final approval. The board approved a second budget amendment proclamation in order to spend tax increment funds from the city on deferred maintenance projects in both the elementary and high school districts.

The TIF funds amount to about $1.2 million and will be split evenly between the high school and elementary districts, with $600,000 going to each.

The collective list of deferred maintenance items include parking lot resurfacing, middle school gym ceiling replacement, playground updates, installation of vaping detectors, a new career counseling center and more.

The general funds for both districts do not include the funding for the maintenance projects, Shea explained to the board.

“Every year we prepare a budget proclamation and budget amendment for these additional funds. The reason why we don’t include those funds immediately in the budget as we prepare it is one, we don’t exactly know exactly how much money we’re getting and two, we need to show how we’re going to spend the money,” she said. “Most of it is usually allocated to maintenance, building improvements, safety upgrades and things of that nature.”

The payment will come in two installments, one in the winter and one in July of 2020, when the tax increment district sunsets.

The amendment will return to the board on Dec. 10 for final approval.

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