addition, he told the board at its meeting on Aug. 30, that two
of the new jobs -- an internal auditor and a full-time lawyer --
would give the district in-house capability to deal with
problems of a nature that have forced it into an unwelcome
spotlight of public scrutiny in recent years.
brief discussion, the board voted the authorization unanimously.
just shy of two months, the superintendent has spent some of his
time poking his digital camera into some obscure corners. He
prefaced his request with an unusually candid public
presentation of photographs showing computer monitors, keyboards and
other haphazardly piled paraphernalia moldering in the
basement of Mount Pleasant High School and the closed swimming
pool at Claymont Intermediate School.
electronic equipment -- and a now-rare typewriter -- apparently
has lain undisturbed in the pool since August, 1966, when Mount
Pleasant moved back to its permanent location near Penny Hill
after a year at Claymont while its building was being renovated.
Harter said he had no way of telling whether the equipment was
functional at the time, but in any event should either have been
properly disposed of or sent to another district school or state
agency that could use it. It apparently is unusable now. The
state has laws and regulations governing the disposal of surplus
Coincidentally or otherwise, the Brandywine district is again
being investigated by the state auditor of accounts -- this time
in connection with the alleged theft of computers from Mount
Pleasant. A confidential source has told Delaforum that neither
students nor teachers are suspect in that situation.
permissions Harter requested and was granted were to initiate
moves to fill the assistant superintendency vacated by the
retirement on Aug. 1 of Frank Castelli and to seek candidates
for possible positions as manager of records and educational
information and as in-house construction manager to oversee the
district's five-year building renovation program.
Brandywine has an assistant superintendent for school
operations, Donald Fantine, but did not fill the post of
assistant superintendent for curriculum when Victoria Gehrt, the
leading candidate for that job a year ago, was hired instead as
interim superintendent. Castelli has been on medical leave for
more than a year. Gehrt has gone on to become superintendent of
the Bensalem, Pa., school district.
manager of records and educational information apparently would
hold a middle-management position and be an eventual alternative
to use by the district of the Data Service Center established by
a consortium of the four northern New Castle County conventional
school districts under the now-lifted federal court
reference was made to the apparent publication of a long-awaited
report by the Red Clay Consolidated School District on the
results of a study of whether central records service is
economically justifiable now that there no longer is a legal
requirement to have one. Red Clay did not immediately respond to
a Delaforum request for a copy of the report.
presented the Brandywine construction manager position as one
that would last only for the duration of the renovation program.
But board members and district officials have declared that the
present second phase of construction will, subject to voter
approval of local financing, be followed immediately in 2006 by
a third phase.
superintendent's presentation was a complete departure from the
usual school board meeting fare in that it not only focused on
shortcomings but did so graphically.
relatively casual observation, it is obvious to a newcomer that
"our property-management [procedures] are extremely deficient,"
Harter said. An internal auditor, who would report directly to
the superintendent, would be charged with turning that situation
west Florida district from which Harter came, property
management was added to the other criteria on which principals
and other administrators were judged during annual job
performance evaluations. "We had a problem where a lot of
property was listed [on inventories] as 'unable to locate'. In
the first year after we held principals responsible, there was a
dramatic drop in the amount of property we were 'unable to
locate'," he said.
also questioned whether state and district policies covering the
use of state-owned automobiles are being followed. Maintenance
and other employees, including Harter, whose jobs require them
to quickly access district sites during off hours or who have
other reasons are authorized such vehicles, but they are
supposed to be used only for job-related travel. "I don't know
that they're not, but we ought to have a way to check on whether
our people are following through on the policy," he said.
members sat with obviously rapt attention when Harter showed a
photo of some electrical cords dangling through a displaced
ceiling acoustical tile. He described that as a minor, but
significant, fire-code violation. Opening a gap in what is
supposed to be a physical barrier, such as a ceiling, provides
an avenue for the quick spread of fire, he explained.
to have a much higher level of consciousness about fire safety
than we have now in our buildings," he said. That also
would come under the auspices of an internal auditor.
in-house attorney would replace the district's dependence on
outside counsel -- and pare its legal bills by about $100,000 a
year, Harter said. The current preliminary budget calls for
spending $225,000 on legal services during this fiscal year and
the financial report presented at the board meeting showed
$85,525 spent for such services through July 31, the first month
of the fiscal year. Because of the lag in building, most if not
all of that obligation was incurred during the previous fiscal
year. Bills last year totaled $353,000, Harter said.
Williams is Brandywine's lawyer.
did not indicate any dissatisfaction with services the district
is receiving, but said there have been "a number of situations
where I am reluctant to call a lawyer, but I wouldn't hesitate
[to seek legal advice] if I just had to walk down the hall to
he was not sure if a qualified lawyer could be hired "for [a
salary] amount that would save us the kind of money we're
looking for," but posting and advertising the position would
provide a way to test the market.
ultimately approving his request to post and begin advertising
for both that and the other administrative positions, the board
specified that, with the exception of the assistant
superintendency, the positions do not yet exist. The board also
will have to approve any actual hiring.
said his reason for seeking preliminary authorization was to get
what promises to be a long process started. "The process will
give the board and the public plenty of time to react" before
any additions are made to the administrative staff, he promised.
Moreover, he added, "an organization is under no obligation to
fill a position it advertises."
anticipated one likely public reaction by noting that
Brandywine's compliment of administrators is below that of other
districts in New Castle County and the national average. "We
have 16 [authorized] slots in the district office, [but] we only
have 13 filled at the current time," he said.
management point of view, Harter said the ratio of Brandywine
administrators to Brandywine employees is well above the
averages in various businesses and industries -- which he used a
Power Point chart to illustrate. "Very few businesses would
tolerate making a manager responsible for evaluating 60
employees. We're well beyond what would be acceptable in those
places," he said.
other hand, he said, the public is conditioned in contrary
fashion by "a myth [that is] out there about the number of
administrators we (schools) should have."
members were generally responsive to Harter's request. Thomas
Lapinski characterized it as "very positive and essential."
president Nancy Doorey calculated that the net cost to the
district might fall into the range of $80,000 to $100,000 this
year. She said she would like more information before deciding
whether to approve spending that money.
Only vice president David Adkins
raised the point that was near the surface through the
discussion: With a "very tight budget this year" and
anticipating seeking approval at referendum for an operating tax
increase, "can we afford it?" he asked.