July 8, 2002

The Brandywine School Board is poised to set the district's fiscal 2003 tax rate at $1.17 for each $100 of assessed property value. It thus will honor a pledge to use only a portion of the rate authorized by voters in April to finance operations in the coming academic year.

Superintendent Bruce Harter told a public hearing on July 8 that he will recommend a local current expense rate of  48.8 when the board reconvenes in a special session on July 9 to formally vote on the rate. In addition, Brandywine property owners will pay and the district will share in the proceeds from a countywide operating tax rate of


46.8 carried over from when what are now four districts formed a consolidated district covering  the county north of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

The other components of the tax rate finance debt service, tuition for children requiring specialized education outside the district, minor capital expenditures and technology expenses. Taxes are collected by New Castle County government and are due Sept. 30.

As Delaforum previously reported, the 21% tax increase over last fiscal year has the approval of the district's volunteer finance committee. Harter said it also has been indorsed by an advisory group made up of representatives of area businesses and leaders of civic organizations as well as the Financial Review Taskforce formed nearly two years ago to help guide the district out of the fiscal problems traced to its former administration.

Although there seemed to be no objection to Harter's recommendation among board members, only one went so far as to commit himself to going along with it. Thomas Lapinski said the overwhelming majority of constituent telephone calls he has received favor not exceeding the promised ceiling.

Board president Nancy Doorey asked Harter to provide the board with a report on the likely budgetary impact of the new contract being negotiated with the teachers' union in a closed-door executive session before the board votes on the tax rate. "I want to make sure we don't fall behind in terms of [paying] competitive salaries," she said.

Only one of the eight members of the public who spoke at the hearing directly addressed the tax rate issue. "We don't want to see cuts for our children," said Jonathan Husband, a parent. "Most of the district supports you. We showed that  to you months ago (by voting for higher taxes in the referendum) and it (support) is still there now," he said.

Harter revealed that Brandywine squeaked through the fiscal year which ended June 30 with a paper-thin $860,000 balance from its $100 million budget. He said the only thing that enabled the district to have any money figuratively in the bank at this point is the fact that interim financial officer William Bentz 'found' $996,000 in an interest-bearing account with the state which nobody realized existed. Brandywine will have to borrow from the state to meet payroll and other obligations until tax revenue begins to flow in in mid-autumn.

Harter said he will not be able to submit a preliminary budget for this year until September but thought that, although tight, it will see the district through the year and allow it to emerge from it with a sufficient reserve "to keep us out of where we are now in the summer of 2003."

Pressed about his confidence level about that, he said, "I feel reasonable confident; I am not absolutely confident."

He said doing so will require "right-sizing" the organization and perhaps deferring parts of some elements in the district's strategic plan. He defined the former as reducing the number of "non-instructional personnel" such as counselors, assistants to principals, discipline interventionists, secretaries and custodians.

2002. All rights reserved.

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