November 14, 2001

An already snug belt will be cinched another notch or two if the Brandywine Board of Education approves the final budget for the current fiscal year that will be the subject of a public hearing on Dec. 3 and acted upon at its business meeting on Dec. 20.

As a result of a much greater-than-expected decline in enrollment this academic year, the district has 'lost' about $1.3 million in state financing, according to chief financial officer Michael Shockley. Most of that is in the way of teacher salaries but other budget categories dependant on how many students it has have been adversely affected, he said.

Official enrollment for this academic year, determined at the end of September, is 10,557, down from 10,982 a year ago. More significant, as Delaforum previously reported, the number of teacher units authorized by the state this year is 22 fewer. The district geared up for about 10,750 students and just nine fewer teachers, based on projections it received from the Data Service Center, which serves it and the three other conventional school districts in northern New Castle County.

Generally speaking, school districts are allotted one teacher or equivalent staff member for each 20 students.

Shockley said that other Brandywine officials are still trying to determine why the actual count came in so far off the mark. But, as a result, he has had to apply a sharp pencil to the preliminary budget presented last summer.

Lower enrollment "has put us in a worse position that we were before," he told the district's financial advisory committee.

As things now stand, he is projecting revenue from all sources totaling just over $108 million. The earlier budget put income at about $109.5 million. Proposed spending is now put at $111.6 million, down about $200,000 from what initially was proposed.

Besides having characterized the preliminary proposed budget as 'bare bones', the ability to further reduce it has been impeded by the necessity to have to pay full salary and benefits to the unauthorized teachers on the rolls and under contract. The state pays 65% to 70% of payroll costs for all authorized positions.

State support for minor capital spending and technology will be down this year because special programs in those areas have ended.

Most of a 9.5% increase in budgeted spending this year over last is accounted for by the start of an extensive building renovation and modernization program and the construction of running tracks at the district's three high schools directly financed by a higher tax authorized by voters at a referendum last May.

The bottom line is that the district expects to end this fiscal year on June 30 with about $2.5 million, or about 2% of its annual budget, in the bank It stated the year last July with almost $5.2 million. That is considered a dangerously low surplus by most public finance standards.

The board is expected to authorize a referendum, probably in March, 2002, to increase the operating tax rate. Without that, Shockley previously has warned, the district is in for some drastic cuts in its programs and services in the 2002-03 academic year.

Payroll is far and away the single most costly item in the district budget, accounting for 72% of expenditures. Shockley explained that it is difficult to compare that on a year-to-year basis because most school salaries are based on length of service and the mix varies from year-to-year depending on the ratio between those approaching retirement and the number of recent graduates hired.

All totaled, Brandywine has 719 regular and specialized teachers. Total employment this academic year is 1,191 full time and 121 part time. This is down from 1,221 and 121. respectively, a year ago.

At the Nov. 15 meeting, superintendent Bruce Harter will recommend hiring Ellen Cooper, now with the law firm of Morris James Hitchens & Williams, to be Brandywine's in-house attorney, and Wendy Lapham, of the International Reading Association, as public information officer. At the December business meeting, he will recommend hiring John Chroney, of the state attorney general's office, as internal auditor.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: Board reluctantly picks a schools plan
Read related story: Extensive school plan under study





get this gear!