among the key points in a response from the district's Financial
Review Taskforce given to members of the school board and the
district's top administration before the most recent board
meeting. Although receipt of the report was on the meeting
agenda, it was not formally presented nor discussed. Delaforum
has since obtained a copy from the district office.
latest step in a public scrutiny process begun almost a year
ago, the response followed presentations and discussions this
autumn about what has been done with regard to 31
the taskforce's three committees made last February.
co-chairmen Stephen Lehm and Kent Riegel say that there has been
"considerable activity" since February and especially congratulate
the district on having secured public support of its building
renovation program as evidenced by the large margin by which voters
authorized bonds to pay for it during a referendum last May. They call
that "a very significant accomplishment and ... a major step
forward in the district's strategic endeavors."
They also call
attention to steps taken to put the district's financial house in
order, adoption of a code of ethics and use of advisory groups to
secure outside business and professional expertise. Lehm, for example,
is president of Van Demark & Lynch and Riegel is the retired
former chief executive of I.C.I. Americas.
accomplishments to date have occurred during the time
are the annual salaries to be paid to those
recently hired to fill newly authorized
positions on the Brandywine School District's
Cooper, in- house attorney
Penny Person, construction project
John Croney, internal auditor
addition, the board at its Nov. 15 meeting
confirmed the hiring of Wendy Lapham as public
information officer at a salary of $65,000.
when a new superintendent,
Bruce Harter, was recruited, hired and took office reflects credit
upon the board, Harter, the district administration and the former
interim superintendent, Victoria Gehrt, according to the response.
All that said,
it goes on to note that "much remains to be done."
implementation report "focuses more on activity than
results" and in a few instances does not directly address an
initial recommendation, it said.
there are reports of activity being undertaken, the resulting results
are unclear and there is little, if any, report of strategies or
action steps identified that will lead to the project's completion."
the response singles out for criticism the lack so far of meaningful preparation
for the tax referendum the taskforce and many others conversant with
district affairs expect will take place in late winter or early spring
authorization for a higher tax rate "to permit the district to
meet its operating income needs of the future" was cited as one
of the district's top priorities in the original report and is now
"its highest priority," the response said.
"there is no evidence that there is a strategy or what
preparations, if any, have been undertaken to prepare such a strategy
or even the roles of the public affairs position and others in the
district will play in the process," it goes on to say.
and in another context at the meeting on Nov. 15, board president
Nancy Doorey made it a point to say that the board has not yet set a
referendum date nor even decided whether to hold a referendum. It is
expected that issue will come before the board at its business meeting
Getting down to
specifics, the taskforce response said that securing voter support
"is more than a communications exercise."
If it is to
occur, the district will have to show evidence of having improved
productivity and "must demonstrate by actions that it is a good steward
of the district taxpayers' money."
challenge has been exacerbated since the taskforce [initial] report
because of a declining economy," it adds.
to closing schools is made in the context of a projected 16% decline
in enrollment, to 9,400 students, by 2005. "This will eliminate
the need for the equivalent of, perhaps, three schools," the
should be developed to consider the corresponding reduction of
costs," it said, suggesting that "a subsequent rollback [of
the tax rate] should be considered in the planning for the
higher ratio of counselors to pupils than in other districts and
noting that that has been justified as something that has "always
been a priority," the response said, "This may be a worthy conclusion,
but there is no explanation as to why it has been a priority and the
justification for it."
"a strategy of reviewing the ratios of all non-classroom
personnel on [a continuing] basis, perhaps as part of a yearly review."
imperative that the district demonstrate that there are actions being
taken and there is a plan in place displaying a commitment to
non-classroom productivity improvement," the response said.
It calls for
establishing "challenging benchmarks by job class" and
meeting them on a schedule. The targets, it said, should be "in
the top quartile or, at least, above the national mean."
district should, where it meets or exceeds such benchmarks, promote
its results and where it does not currently meet a benchmark, display
the steps it is taking to achieve it." the response recommends.
praising adoption of the ethics code in one place, the response goes
on to describe it as "too general" and lacking in necessary
response notes some "encouraging" initial steps in the
right direction but said the district still lacks budget and financial
reports which allow for tracking district spending. "This
continues to be a serious concern as an impediment to the board's
ability to exercise its fiduciary responsibilities," according to