July 9, 2002

No Brandywine school administrator has been called upon to fight terrorists, but the district apparently is taking advantage of a new state law proportedly intended to cover such a situation to help fight its budget battle.

William Bentz, who served as interim finance officer after Mike Shockley left the district on long-term medical disability leave, has been credited by Superintendent Bruce Harter and school board president Nancy Doorey, with uncovering a veritable labyrinth of fiscal problems. Bentz took the Brandywine assignment in April after retiring as director of business and finance for the Colonial School District.

David Blowman, formerly executive assistant to state Secretary of Educadtion Valerie Woodruff was hired, effective July 1, as Brandywine's permanent chief financial officer, the position that Shockley held.

Harter announced at the board's public hearing on July 9 that Bentz has agreed to continue to serve on a part-time basis "for as long as it takes" to work with Bowman to put things back on an even keel. Harter referred obliquely to a "new law" which permits that.

According to district spokesperson Wendy Lapham, Bentz is being paid at a daily rate of $459, apportioned to reflect whatever fraction of a day he works. "The number of hours per week he works for us varies depending on our needs and his schedule, especially now that [Blowman] has started," she said.  Because he is retired, Bentz does not receive employee benefits.

That new law, it turns out, is a previously little-noticed measure enacted on the last day of the General Assembly session which enables retired state pensioners to go to work on a temporary basis with no limit on what they can earn and without affecting their pensions.

In political parlance, that is called 'double dipping' and, in normal circumstances, tends to raise constituents' eyebrows.

Evidently to overcome that, the bill which was enacted invokes the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy and prevailing patriotism in a three-part preamble. The reasoning goes like this: It is likely that Delawareans will be called into national service as the result of terrorist attacks, leaving personnel gaps in state agencies. Bringing back retirees on a temporary basis will eliminate the need to train new people to handle the jobs. Since that is a desirable thing, the legislation removes any financial barriers to doing so.

That said, the new law simply changes the old one to allow "temporary, casual, seasonal or substitute" employment. It does not specify how the vacancy being filled has to be created nor set any limit on how long someone can be employed. There is no expiration date applied to the law beyond a preamble reference to "retired state employees assisting the state during the military action arising from the events of Sept. 11." School districts are state agencies.

The measure was sponsored by Senator Nancy Cook and Representative Nancy Wagner, both of whom represent Kent County districts. But Senator Dallas Winslow and Representative Wayne Smith, of Brandywine Hundred, signed on as co-sponsors.

Delaforum was unable to immediately determine whether any other state agencies are using or about to use the new law.

2002. All rights reserved.

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