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Three Forks schools approve increased budgets

Preparing for the return of students to campus, the Three Forks School Board approved the high school and elementary school’s budgets which featured increases in transportation cost and fund increases resulting from low expenses in the previous school year.

Both the high school and the elementary school transportation budgets increased by $16,000 and $18,000, respectively. On Aug. 23, after the school board reconvened from a week-long recess while school administrators completed the budgets, Superintendent Rhonda Uthlaut explained to the board that the school neared its limit in the previous fiscal year. With rising gas prices in mind, Uthlaut said the extra funds would provide the school with some “buffer room.”

Three Forks District Clerk and Business Administrator Alisa Meeks told The Voice that the district has allocated extra funds in this budget for additional bus routes. “Three Forks Schools is in need of additional bus routes in order to adequately service all the transportation needs of students in our district,” she said. “The district was hoping to increase the number of bus routes for the 2021-22 school year, but was unable to find additional bus drivers.”

Meeks said the district continues to advertise for more bus drivers.

The district’s bus depreciation funds, which OPI says is “used to accumulate funds for bus replacement and additional school buses,” will decrease by $42,792.68 for the high school and $86,919.70 for the elementary school in the 2023 fiscal year. This reduction results from two of the district’s buses “depreciating out.” In other words, the school has already collected the 20% of the bus’s original cost through taxes, a limit set by OPI. These buses were set to be traded in with another bus during the Aug. 16 meeting; however, the deal fell through and was postponed until November. In the meantime, the district hopes to receive two grants, one for an electric bus and another for a diesel.

This year, the Three Forks School District plans to spend $38,000 in tuition for the high school and $124,996.12 for the elementary school. The school’s tuition fund is used to pay for in-district students attending another district or facility. Meeks explained that this fund can also be used to pay for special needs students’ extra care. “We increased our tuition fund budget for FY23 in anticipation of students with special needs who will require additional support above and beyond what was required last year,” she said.

The schools’ flexibility funds received significant increases, especially for the elementary school which increased from $2,971.29 to $35,094.87 for the 2023 fiscal year. The high school flexibility fund increased from $12,845.56 to $21,575.44.

According to the Office of Public Instruction, schools can use the flexibility fund to purchase technology, pay for facility expansions, fund student assessments and evaluations and to pay for curriculum development.

Meeks told The Voice that the school can also use these funds to pay for salaries and operating expenses; however, the extra money allocated in this fund resulted from a large payment of unclaimed money from the state last year. “The money in the flex account rolls over from year to year and includes donations that were not specified for any other fund,” Meeks said.

Both the Three Forks High School and Elementary School budgets featured enlarged technology funds when compared to last year’s budget. The high school technology fund increased from $6,339.61 to $19,864.12; meanwhile, the elementary school fund grew by $22,052.16, from $44,523.91 to $66,576.07. OPI allows schools to purchase, rent, repair or maintain technology or the training for district personnel associated with such technology from this fund.

Meeks said that the school received several grants last year which allowed them to roll the budget’s remaining funds to this year for both the elementary school and the high school.

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