PALMER — Palmer ISD board of trustees approved an $8.9 million budget for the 2007-2008 school year during their meeting last week.

The budget, which was unanimously approved, included funding for an additional kindergarten teacher position and a rock band class.

“The new kindergarten teacher was an addition based on growth,” Superintendent Alan Oakley said, noting more kindergarten students entered the district than expected, with the additional position needed to maintain the required 22 to 1 student to teacher ratio.

The board also approved a tax rate, setting the maintenance and operations portion of the rate at $1.04, with the interest and sinking rate at $0.11, for a total rate of $1.15 per $100 valuation.

In developing the budget, the district made some cuts but was still able to include funding for several new course offerings, which also include a first-ever drill team and advanced placement biology.

“We’ve added a drill team for the first time at the high school,” Oakley said, noting the team will be led by Sonja Batiste, formerly of Red Oak ISD.

The rock band class, while unusual, focuses on more than just playing music, Oakley said, noting the course includes studies on marketing, setup of lights and sound equipment and various other aspects of the music industry. The idea for the local credit course came from the district’s fine arts instructor, Mark Gorman, who will serve as instructor.

“We have kids that would maybe prefer not to be involved in choir or marching band but who still want to be involved in music,” Oakley said, noting the rock band class and drill team are ways the district can “get more kids involved.”

“When you start off something like this, you don’t know what to expect,” Oakley said. “You feel your way through it, and I have a feeling it will grow. It’s kind of fun for a little school to do something like that.”

The district continues to expand its math and science curriculum, with a first-ever statistics course on this year’s schedule at the high school, along with advanced placement biology and an honors course in anatomy and physiology to go along with other AP and dual credit offerings.

“We’re beefing up AP and dual credit courses in science,” Oakley said. “We were really proud of our academic standing this last year and we’re building momentum toward becoming a recognized district. And this is one of the many things that a recognized district does.”

Recently announced ratings from the Texas Education Agency included a shared recognized rating for the district’s elementary and intermediate schools. The middle school is appealing its rating so as to be recognized and “the high school is knocking on the door,” Oakley said. “The goal is always to be as good as you can be.”

Funding can be problematic for smaller districts such as PISD, which has a property tax base that is primarily residential, with little commercial or industrial base to draw from and with an increase in funding from the state typically found only through an increase in student enrollment.

Board members and the administration worked together to create a budget that while small still meets the needs of the district’s students, Oakley said.

Earlier this summer, PISD visited with principals and department heads, with10-percent cuts made almost across the board with the exception of salaries, transportation and maintenance.

“We make concessions where we had to but we focused on the children. We want to offer a first class education for our students,” Oakley said, noting it’s part of his job to look for ways to create additional funding sources.

“The board and I are being proactive in that area,” Oakley said, noting as an example fund-raisers held last spring to defray costs for the drill team. “We raised a lot of the funds. We’re treating it much like cheerleading.”

Small budget aside, Oakley said he’s proud of the commitment the district has demonstrated for its students and notes there are not many 2-A schools that offer what PISD does.

“We’re offering more opportunities for kids to be involved and that’s what we want,” Oakley said.

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