most extensive and dramatic public reaction by a district so
far, Brandywine's chief financial officer, David Blowman,
presented the school board with a list of possible cuts in its
own budget which would provide the money to meet its share,
based on enrollment, of the $10 million worth of givebacks of
state funds which the governor has requested from the public
developed by Blowman and superintendent Bruce Harter actually
totals $1,131,747. Blowman explained that was intended to
provide a bit of wiggle room when it comes to deciding which
programs must be pared to come up with the money.
only asked to give back $925,000; that's all we're going to give
back," he declared. "We're not doing this out of the goodness of
our heart or because we just happen to have $925,000 lying
school officials repeatedly insisted that the list is tentative.
The items which will be recommended to be cut will be folded
into the final version of the district budget for the current
fiscal year. That will be presented to the board in December and
likely approved in January. Blowman promised to provide a list
to pinpoint where the cuts show up in the final document.
was told at its regular meeting on Nov. 21 that, if the State
Budget Office approves, $735,813, or 79% of the cuts, will come
in the form of credits for partial sate financing that would be
required for positions left unfilled for some or all of the
fiscal year. Those include 10 custodians the district does not
intend to hire; teachers and administrators not on the payroll
until as late as early October, three months after the fiscal
year began; and some positions that would have been financed
under the state's 'academic excellence' program.
said that, contrary to what was reported in one newspaper
account, Brandywine schools currently are operating with their
full complement of state-authorized teachers.
cuts which could be made, according to the list, would be in
school-based discipline, cash awards to schools for good
performance on state academic assessment tests, professional
development and minor capital improvements. The district also
would not claim the $14,000 it is still owed as reimbursement
for costs incurred in coming up with a plan to implement the
Neighborhood Schools Act. (The complete list can be accessed by
using the link at the end of this article.)
not asked to take any definitive action at this time, members of
the board spent the better part of an hour discussing the
situation. The conversation clearly reflected the extent of
ambivalence that surrounds the issue. Comments ranged from the
practical to the patriotic
who came to Brandywine from an upper-echelon position in state
government -- he was administrative assistant to Secretary of
Education Valerie Woodruff -- assured the board that the budget
crisis is real and that Governor Minner "held off as long as she
possibly could" from asking public schools for support.
situation is what it is. The governor is not exaggerating," he
the turnaround in the state's fiscal position had been evident
for some time. "It has been three years of a worsening
situation," he said. Given that education represents a third of
state spending, "it was inevitable that, sooner or later, we
were going to have to help out," he said.
better, he added, that the request came now rather than later in
the academic year when more of the state money the district
receives would have been spent. Looking beyond that, he said,
"If the shortfall is not met, public education will be hurt in
the long run."
said that the sense of a recent meeting of superintendents of
districts in New Castle County was that cutbacks in the state's
budget for fiscal 2004, which the governor will present to the
General Assembly in January, "will be three or four times what
they're asking for now."
Minner couched the givebacks in the guise of voluntary
contributions, Blowman pointed out that reality dictates that
refusal to go along with it would put an offending district in a
bad light when it comes to future dealings with her and other
state had windfalls, we shared in them," board vice president
Nancy Doorey said. "It is not the state's problem; it's our
problem. We're all Delawareans. We should do it because it's the
right thing to do."
Nevertheless, she went on to say,Brandywine is probably better
prepared than most other districts to deal with the situation
because of its previous efforts at cost-cutting. The custodian
positions for which it now hopes to take credit for not filling,
for instance, were not planed to be filled this year.
lauded Harter for prudence and fiscal responsibility in bringing
that about. "Eighty percent of the givebacks are the direct
result of the planned drive for cost-efficiency [under] his
pro-active leadership," she said.
the rest of the cuts, she added, will likely come from spending
less than originally planned on some aspects of the district's
long-range improvement plan but more than had been spent
previously in those areas.
have been a heck of a lot worse," Blowman agreed. "Most [of the
giveback credit] could come from things we weren't going to do
anyway. We're still on the plus side of that equation."
the one bright spot in the situation is that the governor and
her administration are allowing districts maximum flexibility in
how they define their response to the giveback request. "They
are willing to listen right now to [talk about] areas that used
to be sacred," he said.
significantly, there appears to be a good possibility that the
state will allow districts to skirt legislative requirements
attached to some appropriations. It could even amount to
granting "a blanket waiver," he said. He was not specific in
defining which, if any, of the possible Brandywine cuts would
deciding how to respond, he said, it was agreed that the
district would not simply "shift from state dollars to local
dollars"; that is, pay for some of the things the state finances
with local revenue.
member Craig Gilbert said getting that across to the public will
be important in view of the overwhelming support the district
received in its tax-rate referendum last spring.
Ackerman was the only board member to comment specifically on
Blowman's list. He questioned, for instance, deferring
maintenance of its buildings, pointing out that that expedient
had been frequently used in the past and resulted in the
necessity for extensive renovations now.
did not defend any of the items, saying that "is why we thought
it important to shoot beyond our [giveback] target -- so we can
work backwards," He said that, when the list was shared with
school principals and administrators, the items which drew the
most concern were possible cuts in discipline programs and
reimbursement of tuition teachers pay for further education.
suggested that a possible alternative might lie in the sale of
unused assets. "We have parcels sitting there which are becoming
community eyesores," she said with apparent reference to two
former school buildings.
Huxsoll said another possibility might be tapping private
sources for grants to support activities which would be
curtailed in the absence of state financing.