The Brownwood school administration is preparing a budget that will hold the line on its current $1.04 per $100 valuation tax rate for maintenance and operations, and will propose keeping approximately the same — if not the identical — $.2307 rate for debt service.

Efforts now under way for budget development were outlined for school trustees during their July meeting Monday night.

“The process has been very challenging,” Assistant Superintendent Kevin Gabaree said. “In the seven years I’ve been here, this is the tightest budget I’ve had to work with. But as challenging as it’s been, we can make it work. We have to work together to do that.”

Even though nothing is final at this point, the school district is in the process of settling on a few numbers in advance of receipt of the certified tax roll from the central appraisal district, which is expected on July 25, Gabaree said.

“On the I and S (interest and sinking fund) side, the goal is to have the same rate, and if not, a very slight increase,” Gabaree said. “If there’s any way we can decrease it, we will.”

Appraisal district officials have indicated to the school district that it can expect to see an increase in the value of the tax roll, but that won’t help the district with revenue.

“The school district is very much on a fixed income,” Gabaree said. “An increase does not help us in maintenance and operations. Any increase is decreased by that amount in state funding… Districts are allowed to go after 13 more pennies, but only with voter approval. The maximum tax (operations) tax rate is $1.17.”

Gabaree said under current economic conditions, “there is no way we can go to the public with a tax increase.”

Gabaree also outlined priorities the administration is taking into the budgeting process.

“We’ve invested a lot in facilities recently, but we can not lose sight of our people,” Gabaree said. “We’ve got to take care of our people.”

The budget proposal is including a $1,500 a year minimum increase for professional staff, and no less than a 3 percent increase in pay for paraprofessional staff, which when combined with the annual step progression, will be closer to 4.5 percent, Gabaree said. The federal minimum wage will increase to $6.55 an hour later this month and then $7.25 an hour in July 2009, and the 2008-2009 pay rates will put the lowest wage-earners just above the 2009 rate this fall.

In order to balance the budget, several major purchases are being delayed.

“All reductions we have made will not have an impact on instruction, not one bit,” Gabaree said. “We’ll try to make do without some things this year.”

As an example, Gabaree said the $90,000 usually budgeted each year for a new school bus will be dropped. But improvements on the bus barn parking lot will be included, because that will help prevent wear on the existing fleet.

“We will present a balanced budget,” Gabaree said.

Superintendent Reece Blincoe said that’s not the game plan for some Texas school districts.”

“We’re hearing of a lot of school districts that are developing a deficit budget, or that are going after that $1.17 tax rate,” Blincoe told the board. “We’re not going to do that.”

The superintendent said if the district can endure difficulties of the coming year’s finances, better times could be ahead.

“We’re receiving a lot of signals that it’s going to get better,” Blincoe said. “We’re hearing that the state is going to help us out.” Additional funding in the technical allotment and the transportation allotment, which hasn’t increased since 1984, are being discussed, he said.

“We’re going to work hard with our legislators,” Blincoe said. “We’re going to work hard to recapture some of the students we’ve lost. We feel that this is going to be the tough one, and then it’s going to get better after that. I’m going to be optimistic about that.”

Among the factors working against budget planners is an 89-student reduction in attendance, important because the state funding formula is based on that number. The district is also planning to double its budget for fuel costs, from $120,000 to $240,000, and boost its utility expense budget from $715,000 to $750,000. Gabaree said even though the bond construction being completed this year has provided additional insulation along with more efficient heating and air-conditioning equipment, more space has been added.

Some savings will also be realized, however, when construction is complete and doors do not have to be left open for workers.

Gabaree said discussion is also under way that might lead to state assistance on a portion of the Social Security match paid to Brownwood school teachers — an expense that costs the district about $1 million a year. Brownwood is one of fewer than 20 Texas school districts with teacher Social Security.