By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY – The Big Sky School District School Board of Trustees approved its fiscal year 2023 budget at an Aug. 5 meeting. Due to lower enrollment last year, this year’s budget has a potential shortfall of nearly $350,000.
The $3.6 million general fund budget for FY23 is funded by the state of Montana and local taxpayers and is determined by enrollment from last school year, which was down by 3 percent. Though there was a drop in enrollment and therefore state funding, teacher benefits and salaries also rose this year, largely contributing to the gap between funding and costs, according to BSSD Business Manager Corky Miller.
BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman called the deficit a “one-year anomaly.” Historic enrollment data for the district shows that it hasn’t experienced a drop in enrollment in more than 10 years.
“We really anticipate that this is a one-year bridge to getting the budget from the state back to where it will balance,” Shipman said.
Ophir Elementary and Middle schools and Lone Peak High School are experiencing growth in enrollment already, Shipman said, and LPHS was recently reclassified to Class B due to population growth, effective starting in the 2023-24 school year.
Last year, LPHS graduated 19 students and this year will gain 36 freshmen for a total increase of 17 students. Thirty-two new kindergarteners will join the elementary school for the 2022-23 school year, and the new 4K program, which allows the district to enroll 4-year-olds in an early kindergarten program, will launch this year with 20 students. Enrollment for the 2022-23 school year is 423 not including the 4K program, up from an average over both semesters of 402 students last year.
This year, the 4K program didn’t receive state funding. Instead, the district received resort tax funding from the Big Sky Resort Area District as well as dollars from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation to start the 4K classroom. In future years, the school district will receive state funding for the program.
In the past, schools were able to apply to the state for more funds in the event of an unanticipated enrollment increase. This state support, however, was suspended in the last legislative session, according to Miller. When enrollment goes up, Miller said, there’s not a way for schools to access that funding until the following year.
Now approved by the school board, the proposed FY23 budget will be reviewed by the Gallatin County Superintendent of Schools and the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Miller says he expects formal approvals of the budget by the end of the month.