December 22, 2003

Eight state-authorized teacher positions probably will go unfilled in the Brandywine School District this academic year. Current plans call for 'returning' four of them for credits against Brandywine's obligation to give up part of its appropriation to help balance the state's budget.

David Blowman, Brandywine's chief financial officer, explained that the district received 20 special-education 'teaching units' more than what it otherwise would be entitled to as a result of its participating, with the Seaford district in Sussex County, in a pilot program involving staffing of intensive-learning programs. Seventy-five children whose education previously would have been financed by a state grant are now included in the 'unit'-financed enrollment at Bush Early Learning Center.

Although Brandywine has used its full complement of 653 regular 'teaching units' to staff classroom and other positions this year, "we did not feel comfortable using all the additional units," Blowman said in response to an inquiry from Delaforum.

The pilot program may not be continued beyond this year, he said. With anticipated decline in total enrollment, the district could end up with more teachers than needed. While the district hires more than eight new teachers each year and is likely to do so for the 1904-05 school year, Blowman said the surplus teachers might not have the necessary certification to fill vacant slots.

The alternative to not filling additional positions now could be having to 'rif' several teachers at the end of this year. 'Rif' is acronym jargon for 'reduction in (of) [work]force'.

Existence of the unfilled teacher positions was reported in the final version of Brandywine's fiscal 2004 operating budget, which was approved by the school board on Dec. 15. That document also revealed how the district intends to 'return' $634,010 to state coffers. That actually will be a bookkeeping exercise with the district receiving credits for money appropriated to it but not spent.

A little-noted provision in the epilogue of the state budget act passed by the General Assembly in June requires public schools to 'return' $7 million. A similar arrangement last year -- at the 'request' of Governor Ruth Ann Minner, but not a matter of state law -- was rescinded when the state received an unexpected 'windfall' from a major escheat settlement.

Asked if he feels that is likely to happen again this year, particularly as a result of the greatly improved outlook for state revenue reported by the Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council, Blowman replied, "We can only hope." That would require action by the Assembly after it reconvenes in January to repeal that part of the budget act.

Even though there were signs pointing to an improved economy and greater state revenue before the Assembly acted, Blowman said it was anticipated that lawmakers would hold tight rein on spending. Requiring districts to 'return' money, he said, was preferable to simply appropriating less money "because it gave us the decision [about] where to make the cuts."

Not filling four of the eight teaching units would result in a credit of $140,000, or about 22% of the obligation. Also on the list is a credit of $158,503, or about 25%, for not filling six authorized custodial positions. The rest of the money will be taken from several other programs.

Relating the not-to-be filled 'teaching units' to the school board's granting itself a waiver from the state law which limits to 22 the number of students in primary grade classes, board president Nancy Doorey noted at the meeting that reassigning children to a new teacher brought on this far into the academy year would be a disservice to them. Brandywine has 39 classes with enrollments over the limit.

In a recently published statement, superintendent Bruce Harter noted that children "do not come to our schools in neat blocks of 22 students." He said that 29 of the 39 classes are oversize by just one student.

The staffing report in the budget document approved by the school board shows five postions out of 972 in the district totally financed by local money. They are the internal auditor, public information officer, manager of the Mount Pleasant High radio station, a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps teacher at Mount Pleassant and a clerical employee.

The bottom line in the approved budget, exclusive of earmarked federal money, shows spending of $99.7 million, against state and local revenue of $104.3 million. If that holds, the loacl reserve to be carried over at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 will be $5.1 million.

Before acting on the budget, the board was told that, for the first time, six school principals were included in the putting it together. "It used to be that we had to know who controlled a [particular] pot of money and [on] what day to call that person to have access to that pot," said Cheryl Morton, principal at Concord High.

2003. All rights reserved.

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