March 22, 2001

Brandywine School District will seek voter authorization to sell $38.4 million worth of bonds to finance the local share of rebuilding five schools and performing major renovations at three others, but deferred until the coming fiscal year a bid to increase the ceiling on its tax rate to finance operations.

Avoiding a potential community rift, the board decided to present as an additional question at the May 31 referendum the matter of whether to install all-weather running tracks at each of the district's three high schools and pay for them entirely with local money. That had become a point of contention when it was suggested that one central track serving all three schools might be substituted for restoration of the swimming pool at Claymont Intermediate School in the building program.

As things stand now, the board has officially launched the $96 million program authorized last autumn by the Delaware Department of Education and included in the state capital program, 

commonly referred to as the 'bond bill', currently before the General Assembly. That legislation would authorize the state to provide 60% of the cost of the program if Brandywine voters agree to the local commitment.

If they do agree, Brandywine's will match the highest-ever capital program approved so far at referendum in a Delaware school district. Colonial district holds that record as the result of a vote in late 1999, but  Red Clay Consolidated School District is going to its residents on Apr. 10 with a building plan that is nearly double the record amount.

Brandywine building program

School Local cost Total cost
Mt. Pleasant High
Mt. Pleasant Elem.
$  2,683,200


$  6,708,100 25,892,800






Although member Robert Blew characterized as "a trainwreck waiting to happen" the conducting of another referendum during an academic year in which district staff will be heavily involved with implementation of a yet-to-be-devised neighborhood schools plan and preparing students for so-called high-stakes state testing, the Brandywine board voted unanimously at a sparsely-attended special meeting on Mar. 22 to accept as a single package the referendum proposal presented by interim superintendent Victoria Gehrt.

Her proposal, in turn, followed recommendations of a financial review taskforce which, in effect, certified as valid a previous assessment that designated schools are in serious need of the planned improvements. The taskforce also included the running tacks in a recommendation for improving district athletic facilities and playgrounds.

Board member Ralph Ackerman said he was reluctant to forego a try at getting a higher operating tax because that will necessitate requiring the teachers' union to accept another one-year extension of its employment contract but was willing "to trust Dr. Gehrt's judgment."

Board president Nancy Doorey said the board and district would not be justified in seeking additional revenue until goals and objectives now being articulated are put into final form. "We can't do that until we have a clear sense of where we're going, how we're going to get there and what it's going to cost," she said.

Mike Shockley, chief financial officer, estimated that approval of the building plan will require increasing the capital tax rate to finance debt service in increments over the next five years. It would go from the present 4˘ for each $100 of assessed property value this year to 5.13˘ next year. In subsequent years it would be 9.99˘, 13.18˘, 15.85˘ and 17.97˘. After that, the rate would decline as those bonds are redeemed over the remaining 15 years of their life. Brandywine is committed, however, to following this second phase of its long-range building program with a third phase, which will require selling more bonds.

The tax estimate assumes a 6˝% interest rates on the tax-exempt bonds the state would sell on the district's behalf. With the Federal Reserve System pursing a loose-money policy as a defense against recession, however, the interest and tax rate could well be lower. On the other hand, the district also would have to provide for the debt incurred if the running tracks project is approved.

Gehrt said a rough estimate puts the cost of each of the tracks somewhere between $225,000 and $325,000. She promised to come up with a completed plan for that aspect of the referendum package in a week or so.

Meanwhile, she said, a staff and volunteer community effort modeled on recent taskforce and committee activity will be organized in an effort to engender public support for the building plan.

She immediately picked up one endorsement -- from George Lossé, president of the Claymont Community Coalition. That group's strong opposition evidently was responsible for keeping the swimming pool in the plan and making the running tracks a separate issue. "Claymont is happy. I'm going to bring it up at the next meeting and I think we (the coalition) will be able to support the referendum," he said after the school board meeting.

"We have done a nice job of making our schools look good. What you can't see when you go into them is what is behind the walls," Ackerman said, referring to aged and worn infrastructure. When the building program is completed -- in September, 2006, according to the present timetable -- "the private schools and the charter schools had better watch out because we'll not only have the best education program in the area but also the best buildings," he said.

Gehrt said that, if Brandywine 'loses' any buildings in the shuffle to implement the Neighborhood Schools Act, it will be able to drop it or them from the program. She cited DelDOE as the source for that assurance. Harlan Elementary, which could become part of a new Wilmington School District, is listed as having top priority for total renovation.

Still under discussion with DelDOE, according to assistant superintendent Donald Fantine, is whether the state will bear a 60% share of the cost of providing modular classrooms to hold students displaced by renovation of Concord High School and other buildings.  If that arrangement is not approved, he said, Concord will have to be renovated in stages, which would extend the job to three school years instead of being able to be completed in one.

After Gehrt said that DelDOE has told Brandywine and other districts to proceed with their building plans based on current situations, Doorey said that if projected declines in enrollment make planned expansions at Lombardy and Forwood Elementary unnecessary, that part of the building program can be dropped, lowering its overall cost.

© 2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: School district vote kept on hold
Go to Brandywine School District Web site





get this gear!