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Bigfork Schools See Enrollment Jump
School district looks to dip into reserve funds
Eliza Reichner, center, and Bigfork High School cheerleaders entertain the crowd before the 100 Best Communities for Young People winners are announced in Bigfork in 2011. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
After six years of enrollment declines, the Bigfork School District is now facing the opposite dilemma. And officials are asking the school board to dip into financial reserves to supplement the annual budget.

Bigfork’s student population has increased by 34 since the 2011-2012 school year, for a student body total of 791. To compensate for the increase, the school board will vote on a budget amendment resolution during its Dec. 19 meeting.

“We have a really strong instructional program here in Bigfork and I think it’s great that people are noticing,” said Superintendent Cynthia Clary.

Bigfork’s K–12 population topped out at 863 students during the 2005-2006 school year, according to business manager Eda Taylor. After that it dropped steadily over the next six years to 757 students in 2011-2012. To compensate for the additional students this year, Clary has asked for $56,000 from the district’s reserve funds; $30,000 for the elementary school and $26,000 for the high school. Because the elementary and high school budgets are separate, there will be two amendment resolutions for the school board to vote on.

In order for the district to dip into its reserves, the school board had to ask the Montana Office of Public Instruction for approval during its November meeting. Had the student population increased by 6 percent, the Bigfork School District would have been eligible for more money from the state.

Taylor and Clary agreed that the increase in students was a good thing.

“I’d use the word ‘exciting,’” Taylor said. “After seeing enrollment drops, to see it rebound like this is just wonderful.”

Clary attributed part of the increase in students to an open house the school held before the 2012-2013 school year. She said after that many home school students decided to join Bigfork’s ranks. Clary added that the school is ready for the increase and the additional students will have little effect on the district’s student-to-teacher ratio.

“We have the room and space for the extra kids and we have a great staff who are able to schedule everything,” Clary said.

Taylor said the $56,000 from the reserves is small compared to the school district’s overall budget. The elementary school’s budget is currently at $3,140,057 and the high school’s is at $2,119,929.
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