March 13, 2001

Brandywine School District is attempting to slash three-quarters of a million dollars from its current operating budget in an effort to stave off an immediate need for a tax referendum. "I think we can tough it out for another year," chief financial officer Michael Shockley told the school board.

He said at a workshop-style meeting on Mar. 12 that belt tightening is necessary if the district is going to have enough money to meet payroll and pay its bills during the first three months of the fiscal year which begins July 1.

"Otherwise there will not be enough to get us through until the tax [revenue] starts coming in," he said. Property taxes, the major source of local revenue, are not due until Sept. 30. School districts 

receive the bulk of that money during the second quarter of the fiscal year.

The board is faced with a decision at its regular business meeting on Mar. 19 whether to go to voters by early June to seek authorization to sell $38.4 million worth of bonds to finance the district's 40% share of a $96 million building renovation program, approval to raise its operating tax rate -- which has held at 76.4 for each $100 of assessed property value since 1995, or both.

A financial review taskforce recommended that the district seek the bond authorization this spring but hold off 

Brandywine building program

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


$  6,708,100 25,892,800






until autumn on the tax-rate question. Shockley said that also  his recommendation.

"Why go for [both] when you know [voters] are not going to approve?" he said.

Because a more definitive case can be made for renovating the eight buildings selected for the program, he said the public is more likely to be agreeable to that. If so they will authorize an estimated tax rate climbing in increments to a maximum of 17.97 in three to five years, depending on the state's timing of the bond sales. That would amount to $67.83 on a property assessed for $85,000, which is about average for a Brandywine Hundred residence.

The Brandywine bond referendum would match the one approved in late 1999 in the Colonial School District, the largest ever in the state. Red Clay Consolidated District will go to voters on Apr. 10 with a proposal nearly double that amount.

If there is to be any referendum before the end of the fiscal year, the board must act on Mar. 19 to allow the Department of Elections for New Castle County to make the necessary arrangements to conduct it and to then certify results for the new tax rate to be included in fiscal 2002 bills. The district has until the middle of July to actually set its tax rate.

Shockley said he has "targeted four areas" for the planned budget cuts, none of which would seriously disrupt classroom instruction. At worst, he added, "there will be a negligible impact." He assured board president Nancy Doorey that teachers will not be running out of paper and other supplies as the academic year winds down.

Although pressed by board member Robert Blew for specifics, Shockley avoided itemizing where cuts will be made other than to say not filling the equivalent of 4 now vacant administrative positions will yield about $175,000. "I have a very ambitious plan for the rest of [this fiscal] year," he said.

Looking beyond the current year, he indicated that dramatic cuts are in store if voters do not approve an increase in the tax rate before June 30, 2002. As previously reported in a Delaforum interview, he said a prime target would be 37 positions, mostly paraprofessional, financed entirely with local money. "When 85% of your money goes into [pay and benefits for] personnel, that's where you have to make your cuts," Shockley said.

"One more year is the most we can squeeze out of [the current tax rate] and we can only do that with some cutting and careful management," he said.

Doorey questioned what effect not holding an operating tax referendum this year will have. She noted that teachers are now working under a one-year extension of their union's contract which expired last August. Referring to that as "a one-year patch" she said having to repeat that for the coming year would seriously hurt morale and could lead to teachers looking elsewhere for a job.

Former board member Paul Hart argued that it would be a good idea to hold a tax referendum this spring because that would provide three, rather than two, opportunities to obtain approval. State law limits school districts to holding two referendums in any 12-month period. "If you don't get it (approval) by next year, you're on a collision course for disaster," he said.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic:

Read previous story: Brandywine wants to revise building plan
Read previous story: School tax votes pending
Read related story: Financial birddog achieves results
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