HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana school district will provide early retirement incentives to about 40 veteran teachers to combat an anticipated budget deficit of more than $1 million, district officials said.

Helena Public Schools expect the deficit to come from wage increases and declining enrollment as more high school students leave the district for East Helena High School, a new school that enrolled students in August but is still under construction, the Helena Independent Record reported Tuesday.

Financial consultant Todd Watkins estimates annual general fund budget deficits will range from about $650,000 during the 2021 academic year to $1.9 million in 2022.

The prediction is based on educated guesses of what funding will look like in the coming years, officials said.

The anticipated deficit does not include a nearly $280,000 decrease in employee wages because of retirement incentives offered to certain veteran teachers this year, district officials said.

School district officials declined to say how much of an incentive those teachers were offered.

The hope was to replace teachers in the upper levels of the pay scale with beginning teachers who would not earn as much money, officials said.

“The educator side of me doesn’t want to do it,” Superintendent Tyler Ream said. “But the finance folks say it’s a good tactic to employ from time to time.”

The district is currently one year into a five-year budget cycle and expects to track every expense until at least 2024, while adopting annual budgets each August, officials said.

The district must make incremental adjustments to the budget to see how they affect the overall financial situation, Ream said.

Watkins gave the district multiple recommendations, including not replacing the retiring teachers after implementing the incentive, not providing further wage increases and analyzing student-teacher ratios and maintenance staffing.

More From KBUL NEWS TALK 970 AM & 103.3 FM