January 15, 2002

Auditor of accounts Thomas Wagner praised superintendent Bruce Harder and the Brandywine Board of Education for taking effective and timely action to respond to and correct what he referred to as primarily "a lack of management oversight."

"The leadership of this district have demonstrated they are serious about addressing the problems. I would not have said that three years ago," Wagner said on Jan. 15 at a press conference following an unusual joint release by his office and the school district of the final report about the latest in a series of audit investigations going back to autumn, 1998.

Harter said the district "accepts the auditor's conclusions and agrees to implement the recommendations that have not already been implemented." He cited several policy changes recently enacted or before the board for approval in the near future as evidence of a "commitment to good stewardship" of taxpayer money and public resources.

He also announced that assistant superintendent Donald Fantine was placed on 'administrative leave' and, when that ends on Jan. 24, will be reassigned to be an assistant principal. Fantine's salary will be reduced at the end of this academic year to the level appropriate for that "entry-level administrative position," Harter said. Fantine's contract expires on June 30, 2003. It entitles him to an administrative position until then, but salary is determined annually.

The audit report charged Fantine, whom it identified only by position, of failing "to provide adequate administrative oversight of school facilities' operation" and of lying to auditors and the school board concerning his offering a Mount Pleasant High School custodian  the option of resigning rather than facing criminal charges in connection with a teacher's allocation that the employee had stolen $100.

Fantine denied any wrongdoing, saying that the situation occurred last summer when he was involved in handling other matters while the district was undergoing a change to the new Harter administration.

Conducted during July and August, 2001, the investigation faulted the district on how it administered arrangements by which Team Delaware, a private nonprofit organization to use swimming pools at P.S. du Pont Intermediate and Concord High Schools. It found there was a lack of control over computers and other electronic equipment leading to unreported thefts and 'lost' assets as well as improper disposition -- mostly simply dumping them into storage areas -- of surplus items. Also criticized were allocation of state custodial units and special-education services.

(The complete report and the district's official response are available through links at the end of this article.)

In addition to Wagner's favorable reaction to the district's response, the press conference include resident Jack Wells declaration that the district administration "has faced this challenge in a far different manner from the previous administration." Wells was identified as the person whose complaint to the attorney general's office was the primary impetus for the audit investigation.

Both endorsements were particularly significant in light of the timing of the report's release, school board president Nancy Doorey noted. The board at its Jan. 17 meeting is expected to approve holding a referendum in April to seek an increase in the ceiling on the district's tax rate for operations.

She said after the conference that the referendum decision "is still on the agenda" for the board meeting.

Still to be determined is the resolution of the swimming pool situation. The district requested, and Wagner's office agreed to grant, time to calculate fees based on a new policy governing use of district facilities. The audit found that Team Delaware was $45,910 in arrears on payments based on the original agreement but, in line with a state policy encouraging community use of school facilities, possibly could have been entitled to use the pools for considerably less.

Following is the text of the key portion of Harter's statement at the press conference:

"District staff has been anticipating the final report for several months, and we have made many changes in response to the recommendations. These changes have included revising or changing policies, altering management practices, and taking personnel action.

"Although we deeply regret that the audit was necessary, with the implementation of the recommendations of this audit, the Brandywine School District has substantially improved its stewardship of the public's resources and trust.

"Throughout this process, we have tried to maintain an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Now that the final report has been received, the key messages we are trying to convey are straightforward:

"The District is relieved that the review is complete and is satisfied that the investigation was both thorough and fair.

"The District accepts the conclusions of the audit and fully agrees to implement its recommendations.

"The District has taken action to correct past mistakes and institute policies and procedures that will prevent problems in the future.

"Now that the difficult but appropriate actions have been taken to fix problems, the district will concentrate on preventing problems in the future and continuing to build the community's trust."

2002. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read the reports and related material at
The state auditor of account's Web site
The Brandywine School District Web site