being told that fiscal woes run much deeper than had been
indicated by cutbacks in its arts and physical education
programs, the board put off setting the tax rate for the coming
fiscal year until shortly before it is due in July.
shortfall undercuts the projections upon which the operating-tax
referendum held in April was based and will result in a
razor-thin balance in local accounts when this fiscal year ends
on June 30.. As a result, the district will be unable to meet
summer payrolls and other obligations without borrowing from the
just two months after voters authorized up to the
equivalent of $6 million in additional property taxes,
initial effects of the situation have caused consternation among
some parents and other residents.
huge amount to be off. ... The question arises: Why didn't
anybody see this?" an obviously distraught board president Nancy
Doorey said at the meeting on June 20.
presented the board with the best information that we had,"
Harter said, adding that interim financial officer William Bentz
"made a series of discoveries after he
lawyer Ellen Cooper hinted at the cause when she cryptically referred to "issues that we may
not be able to discuss in public session ... [that are] more
appropriate for executive session." Doorey remarked that, under
state law, public bodies can discuss only personnel matters and
pending and potential litigation behind closed doors, but
neither she nor other board members pressed the matter.
however, was more forthcoming in a subsequent message to
business and civic association officials who have been serving
as advisors to the district.
now clear that the heart of this error is a long-standing lack
of appropriate position control and authority for hiring. Over
the past several years, increasing numbers of staff were
'creatively' shifted [and charged] to local and other
discretionary funds," he told them.
"Unraveling this will take several more weeks of intense work,"
controversial program cuts already disclosed and others under
consideration, Doorey indicated at the meeting that the board might be forced
to renege on its promises to impose only part of the tax hike
authorized at the April referendum and not seek another one for
five years or jeopardize Brandywine's long-range plan
for educational improvements. "Something is going to have to
give," she said.
said in his message to business and civic association officials
that an immediate problem is that the district is "currently in
bargaining with our teachers' union who [sic] saw the successful
referendum as the final hurdle to gaining what they see as a
long-overdue significant salary increase."
district also is in negotiation with two other employee
bargaining units. Salaries and benefits are, by far, the major
elements in school district budgets.
that the size of the tax ceiling increase the district sought,
and won by a large margin, was based on projections that were
supposedly scrutinized by committees of volunteers with
financial expertise from the community and businesses,
Doorey said, "It's heart-wrenching to learn there were so many
fatal flaws in the information we were given."
the meeting, as the board took corrective action, Harter
identified failure in the past to follow state bidding laws
regarding contractual services as one of the shortcomings Bentz
discovered.. Harter also
said the board last year set the tax rate component which
finances the district's technology program higher than the
amount the state allows. Both situations have been reported to
the state auditor of accounts, he said.
as I got here I realized you had a problem," Bentz said. Harter brought Bentz, retired director of
business and finance for the Colonial School District,
into Brandywine on a temporary basis in April after Michael
Shockley, chief financial officer, went on long-term sick leave
the previous month..
Shockley who provided the projections. He was widely praised at
the time for getting the district's fiscal affairs in order
after former superintendent Joseph DeJohn's administration had
been cited by the state auditor for several
instances of financial mismanagement. Shockley also was
favorably cited for managing finances in a way which enabled the
district to delay going to voters for more money from the spring
of 2001 until this year. The educational plan underlying the
referendum proposal was developed over the course of that year.
was unable to locate and solicit comment from Shockley as this
story was being prepared.
Blowman, formerly executive assistant to state Secretary of
Education Valerie Woodruff, is scheduled to become Brandywine's
chief financial officer on a permanent basis on July 1. Bentz
has agreed to be available to help in the transition, Harter
different context, Doorey said she had been told by DeJohn when
she was elected to the board in 1999 that no teachers were being
paid totally from district funds. She made that remark after
Doris Stevenson, director of human resources, said that as many
as 40 were so financed as declining enrollments reduced the size
of the state-authorized teacher pool Specialists such as
gym and music teachers are paid from the same state allotment as
classroom teachers. The district administration was reluctant to
cut the specialists' programs, Stevenson said.
don't reduce [the number of] specialists, it increases class
size," said Leslie Morrill, curriculum supervisor.
now playing catch-up for five years of not doing right," Doorey
other hand, she made it a point to praise Harter and Bentz for
"being so honest and forthright" in describing the present state
of affairs. Referring to Harter, she said, "There will be a
temptation of some [people] to hold you personally responsible.
But, you are the one taking us out of this. Thank you for your
leadership and honesty."
Delaforum previously reported, Bentz had prepared a tax-rate
proposal for the meeting which called for imposing a 48.8¢ per
$100 of assessed property value district tax rate to finance
operations during the fiscal year which begins July 1. That was
what the board had set before the referendum as the amount
it would impose as the first of five annual steps to reach the
51.4¢ the voters authorized. Those figures are somewhat
deceptive in that they refer to only one component of the tax
rate. Among other elements, there is a 46.8¢ countywide tax to
finance the local share of the cost of operating schools. The
bottom line in Bentz's proposal was a total tax rate of $1.1745,
a 21% increase over the year now ending..
told the board that the 48.8¢ rate, and the nearly $5.2 million
in additional revenue it will bring in, will not cure the
problem. "If you don't make some serious [budgetary] changes,
that money is going to go away a lot faster than you expected,"
proposed that the board delay setting the tax rate until close
to the July 11 deadline for submitting it to New Castle County,
which collects school taxes as well as its property tax. The
taxes are due Sept. 30. "We need to have better information
before we act," she said.
scheduled a special meeting on July 9 to set the rate, preceded
by a 'public hearing' on the issue the previous evening. Both
meetings will begin at 7 p.m., probably in the district
administrative office in Radnor Green. The board also has a
so-called 'workshop' meeting scheduled for the same time and
place on July 1.
told the board that he expects to be able to provide the
requested 'better information' by July 8, but said he will not
have a preliminary budget for the 2002-03 fiscal year until
September. Past practice has been for the preliminary budget to
accompany the tax rate proposal. School districts cannot adopt
final budgets until late in the calendar year because the amount
of state money they receive is based largely on enrollments as
of Sept. 30.
Brandywine is projecting an enrollment of 10,378 in the coming
academic year, down from 10,557 in the year just ended. A
continuing year-to-year decline in the number of Brandywine
students is attributed mainly to demographics and the impact of
financial discussion followed a parade of six speakers availing
themselves of the public comment portion of the board's agenda
to object to the proposed elimination of a director of arts
education and reducing physical education classes to one a week
in elementary schools.
had already backed off from the former into a compromise calling
for establishing a supervisor of arts and enrichment position,
which the board approved later in the meeting. Supervisor is an
administrative office a step below a director. No one will be
hired for the position, however, until the budget situation is
clearer, he said.
Stevenson's monthly activity report presented to the board
referred to terminating all temporary-contract teachers in June
and indicated that some teachers with regular contracts also
were let go. District spokesperson Wendy Lapham told Delaforum
that she was unable to provide the respective numbers
as this story was being prepared.
physical education, Harter said the availability and widespread
participation in community youth sports leagues will offset any
harmful effects of the planned cutbacks.
rarely enforced three-minute limit
on remarks during the comments session was strictly observed at
the meeting.. Cooper cut
off two of the speakers' presentations. When an attender
remarked aloud during the board's discussion, "How far does
enrollment have to drop before we cut math?" she ruled, "We're
not going to debate. You'll have [another] opportunity for
public comment at the next board meeting."