October 28, 2003

Brandywine School District is working on a plan to financially help new teachers whom it recruits buy homes in the district and present teachers move into the district. The idea, according to district officials is to give Brandywine an edge when it comes to attracting and retaining "high quality" instructors.

Although he said "it is still a proposal at this point," David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer, gave the school board a preview at its meeting on Oct. 27 and received a favorable, if not enthusiastic, response.

In another matter before the meeting, food services supervisor Pam Gouge told the board that the district has cracked down on junk food in its cafeterias and will get even tougher next year. In fact, she said that is all part of an effort to have Delaware join several other states in legislating nutritional standards for school kids.

The housing program would make Brandywine one of the first employers in the state to participate in the Federal National Mortgage Association's Employer-Assisted Housing Initiative and the related State Housing Authority's 'Live near where you work' program. The Fannie Mae initiative is designed primarily to put first-time home buyers into 'affordable housing'.

Here's how it would work in Brandywine:

The first 10 new teachers recruited each year -- most of them directly out of college or graduate school -- would be given the option of being lent $2,500 to be applied to the downpayment on a house in the district. They would have up to five years of continuous employment to exercise the options.

One-fifth of the loan would be would be 'forgiven' each subsequent year that the teacher remained employed by the district.

They also would receive an outright grant of $1,000 from the state authority and, depending on the location of the property, $1,000 from either the city of Wilmington or New Castle County government.

They would obtain a Fannie Mae mortgage through Wilmington Trust bank and receive home-ownership and 'financial literacy' counseling from Interfaith Housing and Delaware Money School, respectively. Susan Frank, a local Fannie Mae official, said the mortgage would be at the going interest rate, but would be 'flexible' in terms of qualifying for it.

Up to 25 other members of the teaching staff would be permitted to enter the program on a first-come basis in any fiscal year. They could either be first-time buyers or present homeowners wanting to buy a property located within the geographic limits of the district, which includes north Wilmington and Brandywine Hundred.

Blowman said the teachers' union is supportive of the idea and the district administration views it as "one more tool we can use to help lock in good teachers." He added that it dovetails with Brandywine's "aggressive approach" to recruiting, mandated by the district's long-range strategic plan.

That began prior to this academic year by selective recruiting early in the calendar year. Superintendent Bruce Harter said the district will continue to emphasize early recruiting of  teachers to fill positions considered to be critical needs.

"Other districts will be fast on our heels; this [plan] will enable us to stay out in front," said board president Nancy Doorey.

Blowman said the district sees an advantage in having as many of its teachers as possible living in the district and thereby becoming part of the community from which the district draws its students and their parents.

"We will be doing a cost analysis at some point," he said, adding, not entirely facetiously, "as the finance officer, I  get a lot of the money we spend back in taxes."

Gouge told the board that, with the reopening of school in September, the district eliminated snacks and drinks with high fat and sugar content from its 'a la carte' menus. Those are items which students can buy independently of the prepared meals in the school lunch program.

That, she said, is big business. Sales of such items in Brandywine schools are in the same range as national averages -- $400 a day in elementary schools, $1,400 in middle schools and $3,000 in high schools.

Stricken from the menu this year are items with more than 10 grams of fat and 30 grams of sugar as well as beverages that do not contain fruit juice. Next September, she said, that will go down to 8 grams of fat and a requirement for 50% fruit juice content.

The standards also refer to portion sizes. "We don't jumbo-size any of our snacks," she said. Tastykakes, for instance, are being served in pairs rather than three or four in a set.

The standards are based on national nutrition norms aimed at countering juvenile obesity, diabetes and other health issues.

The approach Brandywine and some other districts are taking will be presented to the General Assembly next spring by the state association of school food service officials, she said. "Eight states have implemented the standards and in California they are law." The goal in Delaware is to have the standards applied in at least 75% of the schools by the 2005-06 academic year and mandatory by the following year.

She said district students have generally favored the moves taken this year and that sales of snack items are holding to previous levels. The only 'revolt', she said, was at Brandywine High School where students protested removal of "their favorite cookie" from the snack offerings. Some students convinced her to recheck the cookie's content against the standard and, when the review found it to have qualified after all, the decision was reversed, she said.

2003. All rights reserved.

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