School District budget includes $700,000 increase in spending

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The Whitefish School Board has approved a budget for 2017-18 that totals $18.6 million or a roughly $700,000 increase from last year.

The Whitefish School Board on Aug. 8 approved the budget, which features increases in transportation, tuition, salaries and retirement benefit costs, while statewide cuts in funding are expected to result in a decrease of about $40,000 in general fund revenue.

The board voted 6-1 in favor of the budget, with Trustee Marguerite Kaminski voting against.

A statewide $6.6 million cut in education funding comes as the result of Senate Bill 261, which calls for four levels of funding reductions for state agencies, including schools after state revenues fell below projected figures.

Schools are impacted by Level 2 and Level 4 reductions in the bill. At Level 4, the state Office of Public Instruction 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.

District Clerk Danelle Reisch said Whitefish is expecting Level 4 reductions.

“It still is not huge for us. Our total general fund revenue loss is about $40,000,” Reisch said. “Those shortfalls we’ll be able to make up with reserves that we have in our general fund.”

Increased enrollment and a permissive building reserve levy led to a 6.5 percent increase in the elementary district general fund this year, which comes out to a total of $8.9 million after the increase.

Tuition spending rose significantly, up 48 percent from last year, as a result of a higher number of students attending the Flathead Crossroads Program and a $30,000 increase required to meet the needs of special education students.

Dollars set aside for the elementary district’s flexibility fund rose slightly while the high school district’s flex funding rose 50 percent.

Reisch said the hope is to build some reserve funds in those flex funds rather than spending. She noted a situation two years ago when a large first grade class demanded some improvisation and the hiring of a new teacher and said they’re anticipating similar scenarios in the future.

Given statewide cuts as well, Reisch said it’s prudent to be ready for future decreases in revenue.

“We have it available for when things come up that we don’t anticipate, because our budget’s pretty tight. We don’t have a lot of excess in our budget, so it’s really nice to be able to have a little of something to draw on when some needs come up that we didn’t anticipate,” she said. “We could be in the same situation a year from now, where the [state] revenues don’t meet expectation and we’re looking at cuts, so I think it will be important to have our reserves at maximum.”

The elementary district faces decreases in technology and adult education spending, the latter coming as a result of a similar plan to build reserve funds for future spending.

This year the district is setting aside $60,000 in reserves to carry forward for future years.

“That may help us offset some revenue shortfalls that we may have,” Reisch said.

The general fund for the high school district is set at $4.4 million, the same as last year, with a slight 8 percent increases in spending for both the transportation and tuition budgets.

The permissive building reserve levy also adds $200,000 overall for facility maintenance and improvement for the district as a whole. About $138,000 of that is allocated for the elementary district while $65,000 is pegged for the high school.

The budget figures in an increase in salary for both certified and classified staff.

The base salary for teachers is set to increase by a half percent along with increases for longevity and administrative staff will see an equivalent increase. While the salary for classified salaries is set to increase by 55 cents per hour.

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