board, however, stopped short of renewing the promise after
receiving a detailed analysis of the district's financial
situation from chief financial officer David Blowman at a
workshop meting on Feb. 9.
several times during his presentation that he was illustrating
the effects of possible scenarios based on various assumptions
and not venturing a prediction of future revenues and spending,
Blowman walked the board through the arcane world of Delaware
public school finances.
volatility, relatively minor changes in circumstances can have a
significant impact on a local district, he said. Enrolling 97
fewer students this academic year than last year, for instance,
resulted in Brandywine's losing state authorization for 11
Nevertheless, he said, "if we stay [fiscally] conservative and
stay disciplined, we'll make it to [fiscal year] '07 without
having to go back to the voters." But, he added that, as a
result of pending and possibly unforeseen pressures on the
district's budgets, "there are no guarantees."
importantly, he added, sticking to the pledge could be
accomplished "without giving up our commitment to our strategic
which spells out specific goals in several areas contributing to
improved quality of the education it offers, was Brandywine's
key selling point to obtain approval for a 98.2˘ ceiling on the
operating tax rate, up from 78.4˘, at a referendum in 2001. The
rates, which include 46.8˘ collected countywide, are applied to
each $100 of assessed property value. Brandywine levies its tax
at the same rate on both residential and commercial property.
than impose the maximum rate immediately, as had been previous
practice, the Brandywine board agreed to phase in the increased
rates beginning in fiscal 2003 and extending over each of the
ensuing four fiscal years, not reaching the ceiling until fiscal
2007. A fiscal year is identified by its June 30 end date.
addition to the possibility of increasing the tax rate to the
maximum two years ahead of schedule, board president Nancy
Doorey pointed out that, with its current budget, the district
has somewhat compromised the strategic plan. It is running
$385.000 behind its 2001 commitment to spend $1 million a year
on teacher recruitment; $160,000 behind the commitment to spend
$350,000 a year to provide full-day kindergarten to 'at risk'
children; and $450,000 behind the commitment to spend $600,000
on preventive maintenance of its buildings. Spending in those
categories was $350,000, $100,000 and zero, respectively, in
fiscal 2003. Spending on academic rigor and enrichment this year
is $34,000 more than the $300,000-a-year commitment while that
spending was $150,000 last year.
to "stretch out implementation of the strategic plan," Blowman
said, was the result of the financial crisis which came to light
in March, 2002. Overoptimistic projection of the end-of-year
surplus, he explained, was primarily the result of failure to
accurately anticipate the effect of the opening of three
elementary charter schools in the city of Wilmington and
lower-than-expected revenue as a result of students coming to
the district under the state's public school choice law.
efforts enabled the district to get through the crisis last year
and it "has been restored to fiscal health," Blowman said,
indicating that level of spending on elements of the strategic
plan will be in line with commitments in the budget for fiscal
not to say that the outlook is now rosy.
contrary, Blowman warned that Brandywine will have to cope with
serious endemic problems. Enrollments, on which the level of
state support is based, will continue to decline, as the result
of demographic factors, during the coming decade. "We could lose
100 [state-authorized] teacher units by 2013," he said.
costs will continue to rise at a much faster pace, annual growth
of assessed property value in the district, which determines the
amount of local tax revenue, probably will not exceed 1%.
too, the opening of new charter schools and the extent to which
the district looses students through the choice law or to
nonpublic schools will have an adverse effect. The opposite
could occur with the closing of a charter school or an
acceleration of the now-flat pace of students coming into the
result, Blowman said, a strategy of "being extremely aggressive"
in efforts to woo parents of children now attending private
schools or enrolled in charter schools to fill the district's
excess capacity -- currently about 2,000 seats and otherwise
expected to increase -- is in order.
immediate, he added, are the demands imposed by implementing the
federal 'no child left behind' law and possible state
legislation to require districts to provide full-day
kindergartens to everyone. "You can be quite sure there will be
a local obligation connected to that," he said.
possibility in regard to the kindergarten legislation, he said,
would be companion legislation authorizing districts to finance
the added cost through their tuition tax rate. That rate -- now
11.2˘ in Brandywine -- is set by boards of education and is not
subject to approval in a referendum.
Superintendent Bruce Harter told the board there also is an
effort to eliminate the countywide property tax in favor of
allowing the four large northern New Castle County districts to
levy it without having to split the proceeds on the basis of
enrollment. At present, that would be the equivalent of 2.6˘
rate increase in Brandywine, which along with the Red Clay
district 'subsidizes' the Christina and Colonial districts.
the plus side, Blowman said he will request the board at its
Feb. 23 business meeting to amend the current budget to apply an
additional $116,441 in state money netted as a result of
recalculation of teacher units connected with a special
education pilot project at the Bush Early Learning Center to the
amount the district is required to return to the state this