the board designated completion of work on the plan as a
prerequisite before scheduling an operations tax referendum, the
document is intended to be much more than a piece of campaign
literature. Board president Nancy Doorey described it as a
blueprint which "will shape the future of the district [by]
defining what the community wants to see in its schools in the
next five years and beyond."
process by which the plan has come about involved, in addition
to the district administration, several taskforces and advisory
groups with well over 100 active participants in a host of
evening and weekend sessions.
one hand that has augmented the educational perspective with a
wide range of financial, management, building and other
expertise, she said. "We've had expert external advice on
everything from building maintenance to curriculum." On the
other, it has confirmed or reasserted the willingness of
residents of the Brandywine community, well beyond parental
participation, to be actively involved with the public school
how it should be. After all, the community owns the
district," Doorey told Delaforum.
has been some confusion in terms of there having been a series
of reports and proposals, that has been largely the result of
attempting to be as all-inclusive as possible in measuring the
public pulse, she said. "They were all pieces; we're about
to see now how they all fit."
lag between public presentation and the board's voting on a
final version will provide yet another opportunity for open
review and comment, she added.
of course, nothing new about strategic plans, either in schools,
corporations or other organizations. What is different about the
one Brandywine is close to producing, compared to many others,
is its degree of specificity and inclusion of measurements to
chart progress on the way to the stated goals. Requiring annual
and, in some instances, more frequent, reports assures that it
will be a working document, she said.
will address such details as how many teachers achieve national
certification, the percentage of students enrolled in enrichment
courses, average daily attendance and how quickly parental
inquiries are handled. Activities aimed at improving results
toward each of those and other stated goals are stated in the
isn't a simple game plan, but an overall ratcheting up of the
quality of education," Doorey said.,
added, is it intended to be just an upbeat listing of
educational bromides. On the contrary, it takes into account
realities confronting the district.
one thing, we have to get a better handle on enrollment. We
project a 16% decline [during the next several years]. But on
what is that based? We need better ways of tracking," she
said. One of the uncertainties in that regard, she acknowledged,
is the impact of competition from charter and private schools.
Asked if one of the objectives is to enable the district to
better compete with them, she replied, "Of course it
biggest and most immediate reality check is the cost of
implementing the plan.
to be presented to the board will attach pricetags to each of
the proposals. A preliminary estimate by superintendent Bruce
Harter put the cost somewhere between $3 million and $5 million
in the initial years.
Doorey noted, will be on top of "what we need in the
way of additional revenue to just carry on with what we
have." The board has been told that, absent an increase in
the tax ceiling, it will face a budget shortfall in the fiscal
year beginning July 1. It has been eight years since Brandywine
has had an operating tax increase.
she said, the approach will not be limited to asking for more
money. "We're also going to see how we can come up with
dollars out of the existing budget," she said. 'Cost
containment' and 'strategic abandonment' will be among the
inevitable buzz words in the document. Utility costs, outside
services and personnel moves are potential areas in which that
will occur, she said.
imponderable is what will happen as a result of the state Board
of Education's review of Brandywine's Neighborhood Schools Act
plan. Doorey said she is "cautiously optimistic" that
the district's request to be able to keep its present grade
alignment and attendance areas will be approved.
think we made a good case that our plan is the preference of the
parents and community by taking it to a vote. But we don't know
what pressures are being exerted [on members of the state board]
or even when the board is going to rule," she said.
ruling turns out to be unfavorable from the district's point of
view, present leaning is not to offer a plan based on assigning
students on the basis of postal zip codes, she revealed. That
was the stated preference among three plans put to voters in
October. Even if it gets a favorable ruling, the district is
likely to consider the merits of establishing an academic magnet
school, such as the one proposed in the assignment plan which
was the second choice of voters.
event, Doorey said the referendum choice will not be between
implementing the master plan or providing money to pay what the
district maintains will be the significant costs of implementing
a more literal Neighborhood Schools Act plan.
is an educational plan and the other is an attendance plan.
We're not going to drop education to fund student
assignments," she said.
confirmed also that the board is likely to seek voter
authorization for a tax-rate ceiling with the proviso that it
will implement the additional taxes as they are needed and not
all at once up front, as has been past practice in Brandywine
and other districts. "We're not going to collect more than
we need so we can bank taxpayer money and earn interest on
it," she said.
it is possible that the tax could be lowered in a given year --
in response to a sharp decline in enrollment, for instance --
although general inflation and plan-generated additional
spending make that unlikely. In any event, she said, whatever
ceiling is proposed to voters will carry a pledge not to hold
another referendum for at least five years.
likelihood that the vote will be taken in April is based on
expected authorization in January for a referendum and the three
months it takes to effectively conduct a campaign.
approaching a referendum, Doorey said she is encouraged by
indications that members of the community have demonstrated
trust in the district having taken steps to assure proper
handling of public money while apparently being in strong
agreement with some of the key, and potentially more expensive,
conclusions of the taskforce which developed the long-range
former showed up in the large margin by which voters last May
authorized local borrowing to finance extensive renovation and
modernization of several buildings. Strong support in a random
survey and 'focus groups' for a concerted efforts to recruit and
hire highly qualified teachers in the face of markedly higher
salaries in neighboring states demonstrated the latter, she
haven't seen that level of commitment since the old Alfred I. [du
Pont] district had a full-time recruiter," she said.
taken the time and made the effort to listen to the
community," she said. "We're going into this
very confident that the community has told us what it wants and
will support us as we provide it."