Several Stephenville school board members and district employees met Thursday  for their first look at the upcoming budget. Like many entities, the district is planning to take a conservative approach in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd recommended that the board keep the overall tax rate at 1.147 with 1.04 going to maintenance and operations (M&O) costs and .107 for interest and sinking (I&S).

"If we stay at .107 then we'll be using $464,962 of our I&S fund balance," Floyd said.

The district has already maxed out the M&O rate at 1.04, and Floyd said keeping the I&S rate the same as last year would allow the district time to see the strategic planning process through. Once strategic planning is done, Floyd said the district could then re-evaluate if they should pursue a bond election for projects such as a new elementary campus.

Assistant Superintendent Tracy Ray then walked board members through an estimated budget.

She said property taxes rose less than one percent this year, which translates to an $8.2 million increase. That combined with state and federal revenue sources gives the district a $24.6 million dollar budget.

The school district will face a few more expenses this year including a state mandated pay raise for certain employees, including teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses.

The Texas legislature said districts had to pay either $800 or a dollar amount based on the weighted average daily attendance (WADA). SISD had a 4,207 WADA as of June and employees tied to the pay scale will see an additional $934 as a result. After factoring in the step increase for employees who stay with the district, Ray said those employees would see an approximate four-percent increase.

In conjunction, Floyd recommended that board members also give remaining district employees a three percent increase. Employees not tied to the state mandated pay scale make up about 4 percent of the district's work force.

Combined with the other budgeted items, that would leave the district with an estimated $25.3 million in expenditures - meaning the district would be $719,195 short.

"The good news is we have enough in our fund balance to get us through some lean years," Floyd said, adding that the district would not be able to pursue any large capitol improvement projects in the meantime.

When the 2008-09 fiscal years officially ends on Aug. 31, Ray estimated that the fund balance would have a $7.4 million balance. Under the proposed 2009-10 budget, the balance would drop to $6.7 million.

The school board is set to take another look at the budget during the next regular school board meeting Monday night.