soft spoken and amiable, Shockley nevertheless has earned a
reputation among Brandywine staffers as a no-nonsense taskmaster
since he was hired in December, 1999, as chief financial officer
and given a mandate to significantly tighten the district's
spending and accounting practices. The proverbial big stick he
wields is a seeming torrent of directives which take the form of
memoranda known, not always affectionately, as 'shockergrams'.
consummate numbers cruncher, he knows every twist and turn
through the maze of government finance and not only can quote by
heart chapter and verse of every federal and state
but also actually understands what each of them means.
Government budgets in general and school budgets in
particular are so much light reading as far as he is
if any, bureaucrats would be comfortable if their bosses
called in an outside expert to scrutinize their
domain. Shockley seemed to revel in dealing with
two dozen of them. The just completed six-week study of
district finances was conducted by a taskforce which included,
among others, several chief executives, a university
treasurer, a couple of certified public accountants, an investment
manager and even an Internal Revenue Service auditor.
passed muster. The taskforce subcommittee which reviewed
Brandywine's current financial practices and controls
said it "is impressed with the ability of the
current chief financial officer" and cited him as
"an individual who has demonstrated financial
skills, professionalism and a strong sense of commitment."
taskforce recommended, in effect, that he be the model for a
revised job description that better befits a position which
calls for managing more than $100 million worth of annual
spending.. It noted that school spending is well past the days
when it could be properly handled by former teachers who
were expected to pick up financial management skills on the job.
told Delaforum that he regards whipping Brandywine's bottom line
into shape as a high-stakes proposition. It affects nothing less
than the education of 10,000-plus children and, by extension,
their futures, he said.
goal is to put as much of the tax money into the classroom as I
can and make sure that nothing that should go there is wasted
instead. Everything we do is for the kids," he said.
I took this job I said I wouldn't do it unless I had total
control of finances -- every cent and how it's spent," he
that literally. Early on, he decreed that nothing gets purchased
except with a properly executed and assigned purchase order. And
that is just the beginning of the process. Each of those
documents is reviewed by his associate Joanne Rispoli and
personally countersigned by himself.
go through the pile one by one and, if I see something that
doesn't look right, I pick up the phone right away and find out
about it," he said.
all part of what the taskforce recommended be established in the
way of "a culture of the highest level of integrity and
appropriate fiduciary behavior." Shockley added that
principals and other school personnel can reasonably be expected
to master and apply at least the rudiments of basic fiscal
for gasoline purchases for state-owned vehicles, nothing is
bought with credit cards and incidental spending on district
business requires receipts. "That's down to 50¢ for the
turnpike [toll] if they go to Dover. If they don't turn in a
receipt, they don't get reimbursed," he said.
spending controls are vital, Shockley said the dominant handle
for managing district spending is procedural. "You have to
know how the system works and apply [that knowledge]. Most
people don't understand how education gets paid for," he
spent 12 years as financial officer with the New Castle County
Vocational-Technical School District before coming to Brandywine
and 14 years before that in the state finance department,
Shockley knows his way around.
Delaware, about two-thirds of the money spent for education
consists of state funds. Expect for a relatively small amount of
federal money and private grants that go into the mix, the rest
is provided by district taxpayers through an annual levy on the
value of their real estate. With figuratively two piles of cash
to draw from, it's a matter of simple logic to spend the
'outside' money first and invest the rest to generate
I came, that wasn't how it was done here," he said.
"Now we're spending district money 47% slower, using up our
state money and earning interest on the other."
companion to that is making sure that the district spends all
that Dover appropriates for various programs instead of paying
for such services from the local purse. Laws governing that
spending provide that whatever goes unspent reverts to the state
treasury after a stated period. "I discovered that we'd
sent back over $500,000 in 'extra time' funds alone. Last June,
we didn't send anything back to the state. This year, I'm making
sure we spend every cent we're entitled to," Shockley said.
June 30 is the end of the fiscal year, when such accountings are
exactly crediting Shockley with having beaten the system, the
financial review taskforce did say he has mastered another formidable
opponent. District spending since the last increase in its
operating tax ceiling, in 1994, has come in a percentage point
below that 16% national inflation rate and most of the favorable
comparison dates to the most recent two years. More to the
point, the taskforce found that was done even though local
revenue grew by only 4% because of relatively little economic
growth in Brandywine Hundred and north Wilmington.
challenge going forward lies in the fact that, despite increased
'productivity', operating deficits in recent years have eaten
away at the district's accumulated budget surpluses. The
taskforce concluded that, without cutting programs, Brandywine
will run out of money to meet payroll and pay its bills soon
after June 30, 2002, if it cannot persuade residents to vote
themselves a tax increase.
at least a 50-50 chance the school board will elect to try that
in late May or June, along with seeking authorization to sell
bonds to finance renovation of six buildings and major capital
improvements at two others. If a tax increase is voted down this
spring, that would permit two other tries before fiscal 2002
property taxes aren't collected until Sept. 30 and the district
doesn't see the money until October and November, a successful
referendum in fiscal 2002 would still produce a crunch. To
prevent that, Shockley said he must offset a projected 3% growth
in next year's budget by about $750,000.
translates into some hard decisions in the offing for him and
the school board. "It was close this year. If I hadn't
recommended that we keep the tax-reduction money, we wouldn't
have made it," he said. A state law provides an appropriation
which school boards can use either to finance program or reduce
taxes. Brandywine last summer opted to take the politically
unpopular course and pocket the money.
said another tough call will be what to do about 50 positions
supported entirely by district money. They include reading
teachers beyond the state allotment and paraprofessionals.
85% of local funds go to salaries and employment costs. You may
be able to cut a little more fat out of the other 15% but if
you're going to make a difference it has to be in the 85%. The
last thing I want to do is to have to cut services to the
kids," he said.
declining to respond directly, Shockley indicated his personal
feeling is that putting am operating tax increase before voters
this spring is, at best, an iffy proposition. Although the dust
raised by two years of fiscal-related scandal and controversy
apparently has settled and the expected hiring of a 'permanent'
superintendent in March is expected to produce favorable vibes,
measuring proverbial public confidence is not an exact science.
I'll say is that we had a long road to come back. I'm not
exactly sure how far we've come yet," he said.
even a casual observer is almost certain to come away convinced
that, whatever is left to travel, Shockley is one who intends to
stay the course.