May 16, 2001

Brandywine Board of Education has been handed a "bare bones kind of budget" for the fiscal year which begins July 1. Chief financial officer Mike Shockley assured the panel that he "tried to get rid of anything I thought was excess in there."

The board received what Shockley referred to as a "very preliminary" draft of the document at a special meeting on May 15. If past practice is followed, as is expected, it will approve a preliminary budget around the start of the new fiscal year and adopt a final version after the level of state financing is determined on the basis of enrollment at the end of September.

Shockley said that, in trimming the budget, he was careful to avoid taking out anything that would directly impact students. While the district "will be able to continue to provide a high level of service to our students" if something like the draft is approved, he cautioned board members that "anything you take out will jeopardize [that] service."

He said there is no provision in the budget to implement any of the still developing 'visions and priorities' advanced by a community taskforce earlier this year. He extended that to include implementation of any significant new programs.

On the other hand, he said, allocations to the individual schools will be made using the same formula, based on the number of students they have, as this year. If a school does not gain or lose any students it would match dollar-for-dollar its 2000-01 appropriation. Board president Nancy Doorey noted, however, that an anticipated 3% inflation rate would reduce actual spending power by the same rate.

He said he will recommend that the district continue its current tax rates -- totaling 92.9 for each $100 of assessed property value -- next year. Part of that could be increased, however, if district voters authorize a bond issue to finance school renovations in a referendum on May 31. The tax plan provides that the district again retain, as it did last year, the money the state appropriates to finance, in districts which agree to do so, a rate reduction.

After the meeting, Shockley declined to say what sort of salary increases, particularly for teachers, he factored into his budget projections. He did note that payroll accounts for 80% of overall spending. In declining to be specific, he noted that the district administration is currently in negotiation with the district's teachers' union. Brandywine teachers currently are working under an extension of the contract which expired last August and, in the absence of a referendum seeking authorization to raise the ceiling on the district's operating tax rate, are expected to agree to a further extension this year.

State government has proposed granting all employees, including teachers, a 2% raise. About 70% of a teacher's salary is paid by the state with the district making up the rest from local revenue.

Shockley said three other bargaining units have existing contracts, which call for pay raises and which will be honored.

He told the board that the budget does not require any staff reductions, except those which would occur if an expected decrease in enrollment occurs. The state allocates teacher positions on the basis of 'units' determined by the number of students officially counted as enrolled in September.

He added, however, that an assistant superintendency may be dropped along with a position as executive assistant to the superintendent. Brandywine is slated to get a new superintendent, Bruce Harter, on July 1.

Shockley did note that locally-financed spending is preliminarily projected to increase by 2.3% in the coming year. Total spending, which includes state and federal portions, will be down nearly 1.7%, he said.

The budget projects total revenue of $97,358,521 and total spending of $100,186,996. The difference will be made up from balances carried over from this fiscal year, but those balances will be reduced to $3,947,953 by June 30, 2002.That leaves only a 4% cushion. Local revenue is projected at $28,688,667 against local spending of $25,513,251.

The district, he said, stands to 'lose' more than $2 million as the result of the ending of a state program for financing technology and an enhancement of its subsidy for minor capital spending.

Also expected to decline, by about $150,000, is Brandywine's share of school tax money collected on a countywide basis. In response to a question from the board, he said that the outflow from Brandywine to other county districts as a result of the system imposed under plan for consolidating districts to achieve racial integration will run between $500,000 and $750,000. The Brandywine and Red Clay districts must, in effect, subsidize other districts under the arrangement.

A major imponderable is the effect that implementation of the Neighborhood Schools Act will have on the district's budget. If things proceed as the law now requires, Brandywine will have to add two and possibly three grades to all of its elementary schools in September, 2002, with an attendance scheme calling for elementary schools with kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. Preparations to do that would have to begin next spring.

Doorey said that Brandywine's lawyer has advised that the district will be obligated to bear any costs associated with Neighborhood Schools if the General Assembly does not come through with money to finance the required changes.

While the district will be able to squeak by during the coming year without an operating tax increase -- and a referendum to authorize it -- it will not be able to go into the 2002-03 fiscal and academic years without one, Shockley said. "There will be absolutely no flexibility left," he said.

An extended executive session delayed the meeting nearly an hour beyond its scheduled start. After about 40 minutes in public session, the board again retreated behind closed doors. No one would say what the topic of discussion was.

2001. All rights reserved.





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