July 9, 2003

In an unexpected move which went virtually unnoticed, the General Assembly in the waning days of its session took the Brandywine Board of Education off the hook as regards deciding what happens to the Channin School property on Naamans Road.

"It's now out of our hands," president Nancy Doorey told the school board after informing it that a provision in the state capital spending law gives the Delaware Economic Development Office, in conjunction with the state budget director and controller general, the authority to handle disposition of the property.

As Delaforum previously reported, the development office is interested in the site as a possible location of an office building to accommodate the planned expansion of the Access Group, a nonprofit firm involved in providing financing for students going to law schools or pursuing other advanced professional education.

At the start of the meeting on June 7, Joseph Brumskill and Sandra Skelley, both of whom were unopposed for the positions, were sworn in as new members of the school board. They succeed Ralph Ackerman and Harold Thompson, who did not seek re-election. Doorey was returned as president of the board, succeeding David Adkins, who had succeeded her last year. Brumskill was elected to succeed her as vice president. Those votes were unanimous.

Dealing with other matters, the board ...

  • Approved a new system for determining administrators' salaries which calls for the biggest criteria for determining raises to be the performance of students in the respective administrator's jurisdiction;

  • Approved the hiring of a new principal for Mount Pleasant High School; and

  • Set the property tax rate for fiscal 2004 slightly higher than was applied in the fiscal year just ended.

Brandywine is faced with getting rid of two derelict school buildings, which have been closed and used for nothing other than storage since the late 1970s. One is Channin, located near the entrance of the community of the same name, and the other is Old Mill Lane in Liftwood.

The school board had been scheduled to determine whether they and the tracts on which they stand would officially be declared surplus. Such a declaration was considered a foregone conclusion. In light of the Assembly's action, however, that item was dropped from the meeting agenda.

Under normal procedure, set out in state law, state agencies and county agencies have the right of first and second refusal, respectively, to acquire the properties. If there are no takers, the properties are to be offered on a fair-market-value basis to the general public. The provision inserted into the capital spending law, which applies to both Brandywine district schools but to no others, authorizes circumventing that procedure.

The Channin building stands on what is considered to be commercially valuable land on a major highway. Old Mill Lane, on the other hand, is located well within a residential neighborhood.

Although no longer involved in the decision making, the school district is to receive a share of the proceeds of any sale in proportion to its initial investment in the property. Generally speaking, that amounts to about 40%.

The provision is the 108th section of the 73-page law. That part of the annual legislation is popularly referred to as the 'epilogue' of the 'bond bill'. It is used by legislators to specify directions as to how state money should be spent. Because they are an integral part of the law, 'epilogue' provisions have equal  force of law.

Representative Wayne Smith, who was responsible for having the provision inserted into the law, told Delaforum that it has a dual purpose -- to provide a potential site for a sports field study committee now being formed and to enable the development office "to move quickly should the 'right' business development opportunity come along." In the latter event, the office has "agreed to consult with the community before making any moves."

As Delaforum previously reported, the Channin Civic Association is formally on record as favoring preservation of that site as open space or using it for parkland. The association has specifically said it will oppose any commercial use of the property.

It is agreed that both school buildings are in such decrepit condition that their rehabilitation would be cost-prohibitive. Both properties are zoned for residential use -- schools are one of the uses permitted under residential zoning. It is unclear whether the development office could acquire the property, override county zoning by virtue of its power of eminent domain, and then sell or lease the property to a private entity.

David Bowman, Brandywine's chief financial officer, told the board that the administrators' salary plan will "allow us to get competitive and remain competitive" with other districts, both locally and regionally, when it comes to attracting and retaining administrators. Superintendent Bruce Harter told the board that Brandywine recently 'lost' a a good prospect to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District because of the disparity in salary offers.

The new Brandwyine salary schedule, which will be implemented over the course of this and the next fiscal yeasr, is pegged to the average pay of principals of primary schools. That base is set initially at an average of $95,000. Under the plan, average salaries will be raised to 95% of that level this year, bringing the fiscal 2003 average for those principals, $88,191, to $90,250 this year and $95,000 in fiscal 2005.

Other administrators' salaries will be indexed from there. An assistant superintendent, for instance, will receive 120% of the base, a high school principal 108%, a middle school assistant principal 95% and the lowest level specialist 60%.

Blowman said that, under the plan, his salary and that of assistant superintendent Tammy Davis, are 'frozen' for this year. All other administrators are in line to get raises, retroactive to July 1. Average increases will range up to $3,930 for those at the lowest point on the scale.

The superintendent's salary is determined by the school board. The district's preliminary budget for fiscal 2004, approved in June, lists it as $135,000.

The plan calls for removing the distinction between the portion of an administrator's salary paid by the state and the portion paid by the district. They will not lose out on state raises, however, because the base will be increased each year to reflect whatever is determined in that regard by the General Assembly, Blowman said.

He emphasized that the amounts in the approved salary schedule are averages.

Merit raises under the plan, he said, will be determined by individual employee evaluations. Sixty percent of that evaluation will be based on student performance, 25% on the individual's performance against goals established a year earlier and the remaining 15% on years of experience. Student performance, he said, will be determined by gains made in a year-to-year comparison of state student assessment test scores. That process "clearly is consistent with the goals of the Brandywine strategic plan," Blowman's report to the board said

The amount available for merit raises will be determined each year by the board. That will not happen until next year, he explained, because of the need to establish a basis for comparisons.

The cost of implementing the plan this year, he said, will be $192,000. But, he added, administrator' raises, if determined in the traditional way, would have been about $100,000.

It was approved by a vote of 6-0, with board member Thomas Lapinski abstaining. During discussion, Lapinski said that accepting the plan's merger of state and local pays was tantamount to "forfeiting your right." guaranteed by state law, to participate in an overall pay increase for state employees.

The new Mount Pleasant principal is Gregg P. Robinson, who comes to Brandywine from Gateway High School in Kissimmee, Fla. Harter told the board that Robinson's chief credential was his successfully overseeing the school's International Baccalaureate Program. Gateway's enrollment is 72% Hispanic and African American, he said.

Mount Plreasant is in the process of initiating such a program. It is expected to be the first public school and the second high school in Delaware to do so.

The board adopted, without discussion, a tax rate of $1.1875 for each $100 of assessed property value. That is up from $1.1745 in the year just ended. The increase is in the current expense portion of the tax, which goes to 96.9. A 2 increase in the debt service component is offset by 1 decreases in the tuition and minor capital expenses portion. The operating rate is 1.3 below the ceiling approved by voters in a referendum in 2002.

The board again this year did not pass on a state-financed reduction of the property tax on primary residences. It has the option of doing so or keeping the state money that would have financed it. Seniors pay half of the first $1,000 of taxes. That discount also is financed by the state, but school districts do not have the option of retaining that money. Property taxes are due, in full, on Sept. 30.

Harter cautioned that taxpayers can expect a tax increase next year as the result of increasing debt service as the district borrows to pay for its extensive building renovation program.

2003. All rights reserved.

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