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.
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
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.
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.
Mt. Pleasant High
Mt. Pleasant Elem.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.