Friday, March 05, 2021

With coronavirus impacting enrollment, school district eyes deficit

Editor | February 17, 2021 7:00 AM

The Columbia Falls School District 6 board last week voted to have a levy election in the spring, with the idea it could cancel it if it so desires.

Because of reduced enrollment due to coronavirus at the elementary schools, the district is eyeing about a $265,000 deficit in its elementary budget. The most the district could levy would be $203,000.
But the district has options outside of simply floating to a levy to voters, district clerk Dustin Zuffelato told the board.

One option is to take the state aid based on prior enrollment numbers, with the hopes that the students return by the fall.

The gamble with that, however, is if numbers don’t go back up, the state will the lower the aid even further to make the deficit in the following year.

Another option is to use federal coronavirus relief dollars to bridge the gap for a year, also hoping that student numbers will rise next fall.

This year the “average number belonging,” a state formula used for school districts to determine enrollment for state aid, is down about 71 students.

But the district is able to average those numbers over a three-year period, which works out to about 43 less ANB.

Regardless, it means less state aid for the district if the number of students don’t return.

At the high school, enrollment is down, too, but on average over the past three years, it only amounts to a couple of students.

There is reason for optimism, however. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, elementary numbers had been climbing, and the feeling is once the pandemic subsides, students that are largely being homeschooled will come back.

There has already been a surge in students returning to schools for in-person learning.

Enrollment at the elementary schools since the start of the year is up 41 total and as the area continues to grow, it’s expected that student numbers will rise as well.

The board did not set a levy, it merely OK’d the procedure to holding an election if need be. There is already a trustee election anyway. Both trustees Michael Nicosia and Jill Rocksund are up for re-election if they choose to run. As of last week, they hadn’t formally filed.