Whitefish School District Sees Record Enrollment Ahead of High School Expansion Vote

1,954 students are currently enrolled in the Whitefish public schools — the highest number since 2001

By Denali Sagner
Whitefish High School on March 15, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Whitefish School District (WSD) is seeing record enrollment for the 2023-24 school year ahead of a bond election that will determine whether or not it will be able to carry out a major expansion of its high school and athletic complex.

As of Sept. 12, enrollment in the Whitefish public schools totaled 1,954 students, WSD Superintendent Dave Means told attendees at a Tuesday night school board meeting.

“It’s exciting to look at some of that information and see the growth that’s happening in our district, and that’s matching the growth we’re seeing in our community,” Means said.

The superintendent said 663 students are enrolled at Muldown Elementary School, 651 at Whitefish Middle School and 640 at Whitefish High School (including Whitefish Independent High School). WSD is currently seeing its highest enrollment since 2001, Means added, when the district enrolled 1,982 students.

This year’s record student enrollment comes as WSD prepares to ask voters to approve a $33.7 million bond to expand its high school campus and adjacent athletic complex.

The proposed expansion — which was crafted over the course of a year by architects from firm Cushing Terrell, school board members, teachers, administrators and local stakeholders — would include the construction of 24 added classrooms, shops and labs, as well as additions to the kitchen, career-technical education facilities and independent high school. The expanded athletic complex would include new and remodeled football, soccer and practice fields, a new track, bleachers and a multipurpose building.

A 31-person committee considered multiple plans for the high school and athletic complex expansion, ultimately settling on a proposal that would put additions on the north and south sides of the building. 

Whitefish High School expansion proposal. Rendering courtesy of Cushing Terrell.

For Whitefish residents who own a home at a $600,000 assessed market value, the estimated cost of the bond will be $146.59 per year, or $12.21 monthly. The estimated impacts to property owners are 38% lower than originally projected, due to new construction adding to Whitefish’s tax base and decreasing the share of the bond each property owner will have to pay.

Throughout the planning process, Whitefish High School teachers and administrators described overcrowded classrooms, students struggling to enroll in the classes they want, and teachers being forced to adopt space-saving measures, such as sharing classrooms and hosting classes in a remote section of the old Muldown Elementary School building.

With the expansion, they said, the district would be prepared to handle growth over the next 20 years — with space for an additional 283 students.

Ballots will be mailed to voters on Sept. 14 and must be received by Oct. 3. Voters can mail ballots to the Whitefish School District office at 600 E. 2nd St., or drop them off in person.

More information can be found here.