December 21, 2001

Brandywine School District residents may be asked to authorize up to a 25% increase in the ceiling on the property tax they pay to finance the local share of the cost of school operations when they go to the polls in a referendum likely to be held next April.

Nothing will be official -- including whether there will be a referendum -- until the Board of Education acts at its January business meeting, but superintendent Bruce Harter gave a fairly detailed order-of-magnitude glimpse at what his administration is considering in shaping its recommendation while presenting a still-incomplete five-year strategic plan at the Dec. 20 board meeting.

As Delaforum previously reported, there is a good possibility the district may deviate from the traditional practice of districts throughout the state of imposing a single tax rate, at the ceiling, immediately after a successful referendum. Brandywine did that eight fiscal years ago and has held that rate since.

A computer spreadsheet Harter projected at the meeting showed potential rates of 48, 44, 47, 49 and 51 in each of the coming five fiscal years. The higher initial rate can be explained by the necessity to rebuild a reserve fund which is expected under the current budget to be nearly depleted when the present fiscal year ends on June 30. Tax rates are applied on each $100 of assessed property value.

He compared those rates with the 32.6 currently levied by Brandywine. The operations tax, however, also includes 43.8 levied countywide as a remnant of the breakup of the county district initially created to implement court-ordered racial desegregation. Brandywine property owners pay somewhat more into that pool than the district realizes from it because of higher average property values and a smaller proportion of student enrollment.

Applying his increases against the total operations tax of 76.4, net of a one-time 3 tax being collected this year to finance construction of athletic tracks at the three high schools, yields indicated increases ranging from 16% in fiscal 2004 to 25% in fiscal 2007.

Explaining that it was a preliminary draft, Harter declined to provide a paper copy of the spreadsheet and none was available to the public at the meeting. He said a firmer version will be posted on the district Web site in early January.

The cost calculations on the spreadsheet were directed, in part, to provide estimates of what it will take to implement the strategies necessary to meet six goals establish under five priorities in the proposed plan. As Delaforum previously reported they include such things 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.

(The full text of the draft of the plan is on the district Web site and can be accessed directly from the bottom of this article.)

Harter said it is not yet possible to present specific starting points or interim and final targets for many of the actions listed in the plan. He added that it is not intended to be a static document and it will be revised and updated as time goes on.

His calculations included several instances where current spending can be cut and he explained that efforts will be made to seek grants to help finance some of the plan's priorities.

In another matter, the board authorized what could be the beginning of a process to establish an International Baccalaureate curriculum as a magnet program at Mount Pleasant High School. An international educational organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, must approve participation in the program.

The board was told that a group of Mount Pleasant teachers visited Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., which has used the curriculum for many years and came away favorably impressed. It authorized spending $5,000 and assigning a teacher part time as coordinator to explore the prospects.

Instituting the elementary and middle school components of the 'high end' academic curriculum at Harlan and P.S. du Pont schools in Wilmington and providing it for selected students at Mount Pleasant was one of the alternative Neighborhood Schools Act proposals considered by the district. It came in second of three presented to the public in a non-binding plebiscite.

Mount Pleasant principal Dennis Runyon said present thinking is to initiate the curriculum, possibly in the 2003-04 academic year just at that school. It would not be the only program offered there.

2001. All rights reserved.

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