October 18, 2001

Brandywine school officials are wondering where the kids are. More to the point, there is concern over what the empty seats will mean to a district which already is on a short budget leash.

Chief financial officer Mike Shockley said that only 10,588 students responded to roll call on Sept. 28. That was 364 fewer than a year before. The last school day in September is when the student count counts. The result determines how many teachers the state allocates to a district.

The problem in Brandywine is not just that the number of students is down from a year ago -- that had been expected --  but that it is significantly lower than the 10,730 that the Data Service Center had projected, Shockley explained.

For every 20 students, on average, the state authorizes what is known in the trade as a 'teacher unit'. It pays 70% of the salary that goes with each unit and the larger share of employee benefits. Districts use the units to staff not only classrooms but also libraries, counseling centers and such shared activities as music and art programs.

The bottom line, Shockley told the district's finance committee is that Brandywine this year is entitled to 643 units, or 21 fewer than last year. The problem is that, accepting the projected enrollment figure, it had assumed it would get 655 and went ahead and hired people to fill those units.

Since they are now under contract and assigned to specific classes and job slots, it appears they will have to be paid entirely from district funds. Shockley said he does not yet have a readily available figure on what that will cost. Something between a quarter and a half million dollars comes up in Delaforum's admittedly rough straight-line estimates based on pay and benefits at the lower end of the scale.

"Coming in a bad year, dollarwise, this just impacts us that much more," Shockley said.

"We're still analyzing what happened," he said with reference to the sharper-than-expected decline in enrollment. Opening of two charter schools in Wilmington drained away a large chunk of Brandywine children living in the city a year ago, but there was no comparable jolt this year.

Declines in enrollment were spread fairly proportionately among  the district's schools. The largest drop was 53 students at Talley Middle School. Three schools gained students, with Concord High's enrollment increasing the most, 44.

Hiring to the projection was not a rash thing to do, he said. The estimate used last year came within about a half dozen of what turned out to be the actual number.

In theory, teacher attrition during the academic year, primarily as the result of maternity leaves, should be able to handle the problem. However, it was pointed out that the teacher units are spread over the entire district and in any given school or grade it is highly unlikely that children can be shifted to take advantage mid-year departures from the staff.

2001. All rights reserved.





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