Billings School District 2 saw its enrollment in the elementary schools increase by about 5 students since officials last counted in October.
The bump caught school administrators by surprise. Typically, enrollment drops slightly between October and February -- the two times a year schools are required to calculate their enrollment.
The increased enrollment is good news. As the largest school district in the state, SD2 receives $5,000 per student.
"That means very simply that our deficit at the elementary level is less," said interim Superintendent Jack Copps. "That virtually erases our elementary deficit."
SD2 had been looking at a $1.6 million deficit overall for the coming school year -- just over $1 million in the elementary district and $555,795 in the high school district.
In October, enrollment was up 319 elementary students over the last year and now it's up again by five -- or 1.4 percent -- more students. Overall SD2 had 16,101 students enrolled in October, up from 15,623 the year before -- a total bump of 478 students.
With enrollment at the elementary level up 1.4 percent, the district will receive just over $1 million in increased student funding.
The high school district saw a 2 percent drop in its enrollment between October and February. For budgeting purposes, SD2 officials always plan for a 3 percent enrollment drop over those four months.
With a smaller drop at the high schools, it means the district will only be short roughly half the $555,795 they had planned.
"We're now looking at budget shortfalls that are manageable," Copps said.
Copps said, the "hard focus" will now be on improving the student/teacher ratios in the district's elementary schools and specifically in its kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
Class size is dictated by state standards and is used to determine a district's accreditation with the state. This year, the district has 94 classrooms at the elementary school level with student/teacher ratios higher than the accreditation standards.
The district now hopes to hire more teachers, especially at the kindergarten through third-grade level to bring the ratio down.
With enrollment up, "it means we can start to see where the resources are for the increase in teachers," Copps said.
Meeting Monday night, SD2 trustees and administrators talked about their search for a new superintendent.
Trustees approved a contract with the headhunting firm McPherson & Jacobson, but worried about how quickly the group could gather up candidates for the job. Spring is the prime hiring season for superintendents as it coincides with the end of the school year.
The board directed Copps to work with the district's lawyer, Jeff Weldon and other district staff to come up with an acceptable timeline McPherson & Jacobson could work from.
Trustees also heard from staff about SD2 policy regarding employee purchasing cards. Complaints were raised after a card was used last year to purchase American Indian blankets as gifts through SD2's Indian Education program.
Copps along with district staff went over the purchases, the p-card policy and found places where it could be tightened. He stressed to the board that he had found no misappropriation of funds.
Speaking of the blankets, he said, the Indian Education program allows for gifts to be purchased out of its budget. The problem arose when almost $3,000 was used to buy the gift blankets.
As a result, p-cards have been taken away from some staff members and others have had restrictions placed on them, he said.
"I think our internal auditing measures are working well," he said.