trying to make me the fall guy. ... They're trying to shift
blame for the shortfall I told them all along was coming," he
said. "They're making it sound like I was doing something
illegal. If I'm guilty of anything, it was trying to stretch the
taxpayers' money as far as I could."
interview with Delaforum, Shockley broke four months of silence
about his view of the controversy surrounding the premises on
which the tax referendum in April was based and the recent
setting of the 2002-03 tax rate. In public comments at several
board meetings since just before the referendum and in printed
material distributed in the district, there have been comments
to the effect that William Bentz, hired as interim financial
officer, discovered previously unknown fiscal problems with a
strong implication that Shockley had been remiss in his duties.
told Delaforum that "everything was in order" when he left the
district on Mar. 5.
"It was a
tough decision to go out on [medical] leave. It was on the
advice of my doctor," he said. Failing eyesight as the result of
diabetes was the reason he asked to be placed on disability
status. The move did not come as any surprise, he said, since
Superintendent Bruce Harter was aware he had two laser surgery
procedures in January and he had taken a week off in February
for the stated purpose of deciding what he should do. His
disability has since been confirmed by the district's insurance
carrier, he said.
agreed with the conclusion that the critical local operating
funds balance is at the crux of Brandywine's fiscal problems.
That is the cushion which enables the district to move from one
fiscal year into the next without literally running out of money
to meet payroll and other obligations.
district was considering whether to hold a tax referendum in the
spring of 2001, it was obvious that the balance had shrunk to a
critical point, he said. But there also was also considerable
concern over whether district residents, who were being asked to
approve a bond issue and resultant taxes to support it, would
also vote additional taxes for operations.
financial taskforce was attempting to determine which course to
take, but the preference among its members as well as the school
board favored delay. In essence, Shockley was being asked to
provide justification for the more politically desirable option.
them I could probably get them through another [fiscal] year,
but I couldn't do any more than that," he said.
said, is what happened.
the district operated during the year which ended June 30 under
a budget he had drafted which was "more comprehensive than
anything they ever had." As the year went along, it was
monitored through monthly reports approved by a finance
committee of professionally qualified persons, he added.
process, he said, "showed month-to-month where we stood and, as
a percent of budget, where we ought to be," said. The budget and
reports were in a form that was "simple enough for everybody to
January -- when the parameters of the referendum were decided --
the board had been fully informed that what started out as a
tight budget already had suffered two major shocks.
was a miscalculation by the Data Service Center of projected
enrollment for the year. As a result, Brandywine had lost state
authorization -- and financing -- for the equivalent of 22½
teaching positions instead of the nine and a half it had
expected -- and budgeted -- to lose. Then came sharp increases
in insurance premiums as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, World
Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Neither was kept secret from
the board or the public, Shockley said.
February, he said, it was learned that Brandywine had a net loss
of students under the state's public school choice system and
had lost more students to charter schools than had been
expected. Instead of choice netting the district $645,000 in
revenue, as had been budgeted, it cost $15,000. Payments to
charter schools were $1.3 million, instead of the $950,000
budgeted. Shockley said he left the district as that information
was becoming available and does not know whether it was
presented to the board or, because it could have been considered
an unfavorable reflection on the district as the referendum date
was approaching, made public.
during the year, he said, interest income was down, netting
about $200,000 less than budgeted and the board agreed to pay
legal fees amounting to about $80,000 to settle a lawsuit with
former business manager Richard Hauge.
knew we had those teachers (not supported by the state) being
paid entirely by local funds and we had paraprofessionals, aides
and others who were locally funded," he said.
offset that and as a matter of good practice, he said he made
sure that "we maximized the use of state funds" by assigning
high-salary senior teachers to slots supported by such things as
state-financed 'academic excellence' units. The source of their
pay did not matter to teachers, but it was significant to the
district's bottom line, he explained.
not 'creative accounting' in the sense the term is used as a
disparagement in the context of violating accounting standards
but the kind of astute fiscal management which comes with
experience, he said.
other hand, he noted, an end-of-fiscal-year report presented to
the district finance committee and reported by Delaforum,
although not presented publicly to the school board at its most
recent meeting, appears to show that spending of local money
came in slightly below what had been budgeted.
That would indicate that the
so-called budget shortfall on which the disappearing balance has
been blamed was virtually all attributable to unexpected, and
for the most part uncontrolable, declines in revenue, he said.
More to the point, it was recognized as it was happening.
"A budget isn't something that's
fixed; to do it you have to estimate. I make mistakes, because
I'm not perfect -- nobody is. But I've been doing this for 19
years and my numbers have always been pretty accurate," Shockley
"All this acting about being
surprised is smoke and mirrors. Saying they didn't know what was
happening is baloney," he added. "I was telling them for a year
and a half. All along, I've offered to give them [information
in] any form of report they wanted."
Shockley said the claim that the
district had any year-end balance at all was the result of Bentz
having 'found' money in a state account that district officials
did not realize existed "is complete nonsense." The account,
identified by Delaforum, as having been the district's share of
proceeds from the sale of buildings in the 1980s, was the same
one from which money was drawn to pay for repairs to the roof of
the Data Service Center building on Mount Lebanon Road, he said.
"With all the fuss about that, the board can't say they didn't
know about it," he said. Just in case it had been
forgotten, Shockley said he reminded Harter and the board of the
fund's existence in a memo late in 1991.
As to an allegation that he
recommended a tax rate to finance technology higher than the
state permits, Shockley said the memorandum sent to all school
districts by the state Department of Education advising them of
the limit was circulated months after the rate was set by the
school board in July.
Brandywine superintendent Joseph DeJohn hired Shockley in
December, 1999, to reform district finances in the wake of a
series of state audit reports alleging extensive mismanagement.
Shockley said he had not been specifically recruited but had
applied for the job because of the professional challenge it
presented. After he was hired, there was a general belief that
his strong suit was familiarity with state financing, especially
as it applied to public education.
state finance system is complicated, but if you know what you're
doing you can work with it," Shockley said. He came to
Brandywine after 12 years in the business office of the New
Castle County Vocational-Technical School District and 14 years
before that with the state Department of Finance.
He said that, until the past several
weeks, he had been praised for his efforts by both Brandywine
board members and those who participated with various advisory
groups in the district. Throughout his career, his work "has
balanced to the penny with the state accounting reports" and has
resulted "in nothing but clean audits," he said
"What bothers me is that they are
questioning my ability as well as my personal integrity. A lot
of things are being said that really hurt," he said. "I came to
Brandywine only because I thought I could help the district and
that's what I wanted to do. And now this is what I get for it."