June 1, 2001

Brandywine School District officials declared their overwhelming referendum victory a vote of confidence by the community in the district's leadership and support for the direction in which it is going. They cited the size of the vote to authorize the sale of $38.4 million worth of bonds to finance school renovations as evidence that the support is neither narrow gauge nor fleeting.

"Brandywine is back," shouted an obviously elated board president Nancy Doorey at an impromptu victory celebration in the hallway of the administration building when results from about half of the 19 polling places made it clear there would not only be a favorable outcome but that the margin would be decisive.

"We haven't seen a margin like that for decades anywhere in Delaware," she said.

The bond issue will provide money for the district's 40% share of the $96 million it will cost to totally renovate five schools -- Concord High, Talley Middle, Harlan Intermediate and Forwood and Lombardy Elementary -- and perform major work at three others -- Mount Pleasant High, Claymont Intermediate and Mount Pleasant Elementary. Authorization to sell

the local bonds makes it certain that the General Assembly will approve the state's share of the building program in capital expenditures legislation -- the so-called 'bond bill' -- up for enactment before the Assembly adjourns at the end of June.

The Brandywine bond issue, which will be spread over five years, will match the state record for school construction approved by voters in the Colonial School District in November, 1999. A significantly larger amount proposed by Red Clay Consolidated School District earlier this year was rejected by voters there. Christiana School District also had a requested bond authorization turned down this year.

Just shy of 10,000 Brandywine district residents turned out on May 31 to give the bonds a 75.8%-to-24.2% endorsement. The vote was 7,554 to approve the issue with 2,414 cast in opposition.

Also approved, by 71.6% to 28.4%, was a separate one-time capital expenditure of $948,000 to build rubberized all-weather running tracks at the district's three high schools. That vote was 7,120 to 2,822.

Doorey said the referendum result show "voters in this district still have a strong interest in investing in quality public education."

"It reflects confidence in the current administration and

Photo courtesy of the Brandywine
School District

Senator Thomas Carper congratulates Superintendent Victoria Gehrt on the success of the Brandywine School District's bond referendum.

board and willingness to support us and to work together with us," she added. "It makes me proud to be in Brandywine."

From a few minutes after the polls closed at 9 p.m.,  the issues never were in doubt. When the first returns, from the polling place at Concord High, were entered into a computer spreadsheet and flashed on a screen, showing a strong favorable vote, a cheer went up. As other results came in, it was hugs and kisses all around.

Interim superintendent Victoria Gehrt -- whom Doorey and others credited for restoring public confidence leading to the success in convincing residents to support the bond issue and the building program it will help finance -- said a decision to involve members of the community not only in the referendum campaign but also in the process of establishing priorities and goals for the district has paid off.

"We've been honest and forthright in telling what needs to be done. The community has shown that once again it trusts Brandywine," she said.

Gehrt said the district will begin immediately to move the building program forward. Harlan Intermediate School will be totally renovated during the 2002-03 school year, while its students are housed in the former Burnett Intermediate building in north Wilmington. Concord High's turn will follow in 2003-04.

It has not yet been decided if the tracks will be installed in time for the opening of the next academic year in September. The tax levy to finance it will not be due until Sept. 30. While Brandywine probably could arrange for short-term borrowing against those receipts, Gehrt said there has not been any discussion about following that course.

She declined to say whether she expects to be around to see the renovations program carried out. She indicated she has not yet made that career decision. She has served in the Brandywine post for most of this academic year on a leave of absence from the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.

Bruce Harter, who is to succeed her as Brandywine's 'permanent' superintendent in July, said in a telephone interview with Delaforum from his home in Fort Myers, Fla., that he regards the referendum outcome as reflecting "a great deal of confidence in the school district." While he played no direct role in the referendum campaign, he said he watched its progress closely for an indication whether Brandywine residents would continue their "tradition of great support for public education."

Craig Gilbert, who co-chaired the volunteer referendum steering committee, called the effort to turn out voters and convince them to support the bond issue "a true citizens effort."

It was clear to observers that what began as an uphill struggle gathered momentum as it went along. It mustered considerable support during the past three weeks or so through an intensive, well organized campaign which reached not only school audiences but also civic and business groups.

Mark Huxsoll, who takes his school board seat in July, said he was happy to see "things going in a positive direction for the district." He said the vote reflected the desires of "a wide cross-section of the community -- not just the staff, not just the parents, but everybody."

Doorey said she was pleased while touring the polling places "to see the large number of senior citizens" who turned out to vote. "Their kids received quality education here and they want the same for the next generation," she said.

One of several people who publicly voiced support before the vote for the district's effort showed up briefly to share in the victory celebration. U.S. Senator, and former Governor, Thomas Carper said his endorsement was both "as a parent and a public official who believes passionately in public education."  His children attend Hanby Middle and Claymont Intermediate.

He sidestepped a question of whether he thought his record as a politician who never lost any of the several elections in which he has been involved proved contagious.

That may be put to the test relatively soon. Brandywine officials have said that it is virtually certain the district will return to voters, either late this calendar year or early next, to seek approval to increase the ceiling on its operating tax rate.

© 2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: Board told referendum prognosis is good
Read a primer on the Brandywine bond authorization referendum
Go to the Brandywine School District Web site





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