Whitefish Schools face cut to budget

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A statewide $6.6 million cut in education funding should have minimal impacts for the Whitefish School District.

The cuts stem from the enactment of Senate Bill 261, which outlines four levels of funding reductions for state agencies, including schools. State revenues have fallen below projections, which is triggering the $97 million in spending cuts beginning in August.

District Clerk Danelle Reisch said Whitefish schools are looking at a reduction of about $50,000 in funding district-wide.

“It’s a significant amount of money, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not huge,” she said. “We’ll just have to make some decisions throughout the year and determine what we’re going to do without and what we’re not going to have to offset those revenue shortfalls.”

Schools are impacted by Level 2 and Level 4 reductions in the bill, with Level 4 reflecting a higher reduction from districts.

At Level 2, the Office of Public Instruction will reduce state level activities and prorate the reductions for payments to schools using existing allocation protocols. At Level 4, OPI will prorate the secondary vocational education, cut the data for achievement and natural resource development payments and reduce block grant payments to districts in accordance with the bill.

Reisch noted the Natural Resource Development payment had already been taken away from Whitefish schools anyway.

As of now, Reisch said it’s hard to look ahead and see what future budgets are going to look like given the reductions.

“I think we may also have some reductions in our state vocational education payment, it looks like that might be reduced as well,” she said. “I just don’t know, I guess we’ll know Aug. 25 when we get our first payments.”

According to the Office of Public Instruction estimates for the 2017-18 school year, Kalispell may see a reduction of more than $291,000 and Columbia Falls could see a reduction of more than $92,000.

An estimate of the impact on each district can be found at http://opi.mt.gov, but the total impact to all Montana districts is expected to be about $6.6 million for fiscal year 2018. Additional reductions will occur in fiscal year 2019, and in total, SB 261 will reduce school funding by about $19.1 million over the fiscal year 2018-fiscal year 2019 biennium.

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