at its meeting on Jan. 17 is expected to schedule a referendum
to seek an increase in the ceiling on the district's operating
tax rate. The vote most likely will take place some time in
'steering committee' to muster support for a favorable vote on
the proposal already has been formed. The district's finance
committee voted unanimously on Jan. 8 to recommend holding the
referendum. At the board's workshop session the previous
evening, Harter made a detailed presentation during which he
said additional local tax revenue is needed to avert a serious
budget crisis and to permit implementation of a strategic plan
"to improve education of our students."
Delaforum previously reported and Harter confirmed, that will
require an increase in the tax ceiling of about 18.5¢
for each $100 of assessed property value. Deviating, perhaps for
the first time, from standard practice in Delaware public school
districts, the Brandywine board would agree to set annual tax
rates at whatever level, up to the ceiling, is necessary to meet
board adopts Harter's proposal, the full authorized amount would
not come into play until the 2006-07 fiscal year. Harter
estimated that the fiscal 2002-03 increase would be 16.2¢ and
that that would revert to 15¢ the following year before
increasing gradually each year to the maximum.
current operating tax rate is 79.4¢, which includes a one-time
3¢ levy authorized by voters last May to finance construction of
running tracks at the district's three high schools. The rate
also includes 32.6¢ carried over from the former New Castle
County district and apportioned among the four northern
districts on the basis of enrollments.. The total Brandywine tax
rate, including debt service, is just over 97¢.
cent of tax translates into about $315,000 of revenue for
Brandywine. Taxes and other local sources provide 35% of the
district's total revenue. State support accounts for 61% and
federal money constitutes the rest.
said he will recommend that the board promise not to seek
another increase in the tax ceiling until 2007.
president Nancy Doorey noted, by way of perspective, that an 18¢
increase is actually less than the 19.7¢ increase that the then
board proposed and voters approved in 1994.
telling both the school board and the finance committee that his
referendum proposal "is built around a specific set of goals and
a strategic plan," Harter said the additional spending
that will require will amount to a small fraction of the
district's $100 million-plus budget. "It is only 2% of our total
costs, but it will make a tremendous difference," he said.
16.2¢ that he estimates would have to be added to the tax rate
in the 2002-03 fiscal year, 5.7¢ would go to finance elements of
the strategic plan. The largest portion, 6.9¢, would be needed
to rebuild the budget's carryover reserve to $3 million. It is
projected to drop to $1.5 million by June 30. In addition to
providing a safety margin in the budget, the reserve finances
spending during the early months of the fiscal year until tax
revenue is received in the autumn. School tax is payable on or
before Sept. 30, three months after the start of the fiscal
said that more than $1 million of the estimated $1.9 million net
cost of the strategic plan during the first year would be
earmarked for recruiting, retaining and training teachers. "This
funding is not for across-the-board salary increases, but for
targeted investments," he said.
example, he told the board, the district would like to be able
to hire "20 of the best teachers we can find in the middle
Atlantic states" in February and March even though that could
turn out to be more than were required in September under state
allocation standards to serve actual enrollment. The district
would have to bear the cost of such overstaffing.
best teachers are not always available in August," he said,
noting that Brandywine hired 65 teachers during that month in
2001. He said both newly graduated and experienced teachers
would be sought and that, in doing so, "Brandywine would offer
salaries competitive with any other district in the state." New
teachers would receive supportive mentoring during their first
two years and all teachers would be given enhanced continuing
half of the remaining $900,000 of first-year spending would go
into early-childhood education "where a relatively small
investment can make a huge difference to children in learning to
read, write and perform well in mathematics," he said. Other
elements of the plan include providing incentives for students
to pursue more rigorous academics and establishing an
in-district alternative education program.
specific initiatives to be undertaken during the first year, he
said "70% don't require additional spending," he said.
the increased cost of present services since the last tax
increase eight years ago and instituting a preventative
maintenance program over and above what the state provides in
the way of support for minor capital spending are the other
elements requiring a tax increase, Harter said.
same time he indicated taxpayers will not be asked to bear the
full burden. He said an "aggressive cost-containment" effort
will slice just over $1 million from current spending.
the number of central-office administrators will be reduced from
18 in fiscal 1994 to 13 for next year with the elimination of
two such positions. The board in December voted not to renew one
administrator's contract when it expires June 30. Harter said he
regards that action as a 'personnel matter' in the context of
Delaware's public disclosure law and declined to identify who is
affected. Board president Nancy Doorey said that all contract
renewals were for one year. The district in the past has had
with such cost cutting would be some shifting of central
administration to the schools. Harter said there would be a
concerted effort to keep the present 91:9 ratio of school to
support spending. "We're already lean and we want to stay that
way," he said.
augment tax revenue, Harter said the district is stepping up
efforts to secure additional grant financing from private
sources. The first-year target is to increase other than
entitlement grants aligned to the strategic plan by $100,000
during the first year.
specific but potentially significant, he said, is the additional
enrollment and revenue that could be obtained by "attracting
students back to public education from charter and private
schools" by enhancing what is already the widely quality of a
Brandywine education. "We think we can turn the tide" of a
projected steady decline in enrollment, he said.
said the district is forming yet another community volunteer
committee to look into what it should do with its surplus
property -- specifically the long-closed Channin and Old Mill
Lane school buildings -- and to relocate its school-bus
operations and storage yard.
said that, while he is confident the board, administration and
referendum committee "can make the case" for public approval of
the tax proposal, there is a serious threat inherent in voter
rejection. In addition to not being able to initiate the plan,
he warned of a need for immediate "drastic reductions" in
He noted that the district also is
faced with potential fall out from the impending public release
of a report of a further state audit investigation. Conducted
last summer, it found problems with property management and the
arrangement by which the swimming pool at P.S. du Pont
Intermediate School was made available to a private
organization. Although Harter said steps have been taken to
correct the situations and prevent recurrence, expected
publicity about the report -- including the inevitable rehashing
of "the integrity issues [we've had] in the past" -- could have
a negative impact on the referendum.