May 20, 2005

Some residents of the Brandywine School District -- more likely than not, a tiny fraction of those eligible to do so -- will go to one of 18 polling places on May 24 to authorize financing for the third and final phase of a buildings-renovation program that has been underway for nearly a dozen years.

If the vote is favorable -- and the consensus of knowledgeable observers is that it will be -- the district by June, 2012, will have 14 'modernized' schools and two new ones. As board president Nancy Doorey put it during a recent public meeting, the district will have the most up-to-date educational facilities of any of the state's 19 public school districts.

By 2028, when the last of several 20-year bond issues have been paid off, district property owners will have directly spent something in the neighborhood of $160 million to accomplish that and, as state taxpayers, contributed proportionately to about $225 million that state government will have spent.

Brandywine's proposed building program

  Local share State share


(board recommend) (state formula)
Renovate P.S. du Pont Intermediate $17,787,400 $17,787,400 $26,681.200
Renovate Springer Middle $10,435,200 $10,435,200 $15,652,700
Renovate Hanby Middle $9,842,100 $9,842,100 $14,763,100
Replace Lancashire Elementary $7,611,500 $4,259,000 $6,389,800
Replace Brandywood Element-ary; relocate Bush pre-school $9,924,900 $5,657,200 $8,485.900
Renovate maintenance building $810,500 $810,500 $1,215,800
Demolish Bush building $231,600 $231,600 $347,500
Relocate district office $1,249,500 $1,249,500 $1,874,300
Relocate transportation facility $6,079,000 n.a. $0
TOTAL $63,971,700 $50,272,500 $75,410,300

SOURCE: Department of Elections

Those totals are ballpark estimates and include interest on the debt, which can be considered comparable in most respects to a homeowner's mortgage.

Viewed from another perspective, a child who had just entered kindergarten when a former board and district administration developed the long-range renovations plan in the autumn of 1993 will have just received his or her advanced degree from graduate school when the new Brandywood Elementary building is ready for occupancy. It is entirely feasible that his or her child will be attending college when the last of the bonds are paid off.

While that exercise might be considered

fanciful, it isn't far off the mark when it comes to illustrating the continuity which surrounds the program. Last summer, when a group of teachers and involved parents were fighting a proposal to close, rather than renovate, Hanby Middle School, they argued that they were promised that their school was next in line in return for their support for the financing of the second phase of the program in 2001.

This time around, one of the add-on operating proposals to go before the voters would provide money to install security cameras and intrusion devices in schools renovated during the first phase of the program. Superintendent Bruce Harter pointed out that the need for that sort of equipment is taken for

granted nowadays, but was not given much priority before the school shootings tragedy in Littleton, Colo., in 1999.

Another change that has taken place is that school authorities no longer can go the the public with internally generated referendum plans and expect to get by on the strength of a couple of Parent-Teacher Association endorsements. In preparation for the coming vote, Brandywine set up a facilities taskforce of community volunteers to recommend a plan. The full panel and its committees

Brandywine's outstanding debt

Issue Maturity Amount Rate Total
2003 July 1, 2023 $15,078,123 4.1% $6,417,291 $14,324.216
2003 Jan. 1, 2023 $13,683.000 3.98% $5,718,125 $13,570,310
2002 July 1, 2022 $3,112,700 4% $1,307,334 $2,801,430
1996 Apr. 1, 2016 $15,348.464 5.33% $8,557,954 $8,441,655
1994 Dec. 1, 2014 $184,900 6.16% $119,595 $92.450
1994 Dec 1, 2014 $1,878.400 6.16% $1,214,650 $939.200
1994 Dec. 1, 2014 $645,700 6.16% $417.639 $322,850
TOTAL $49,931,287   $23,752,590 $40,492,112
SOURCE: Brandywine School District

held 30 meetings, which were open to the public, and conducted three public hearings. A referendum support committee recently published a catalog of favorable endorsements by a variety of public officials.

In November, 1993, when there was open opposition, the initial renovations financing proposal barely squeaked by with a 50.1%-to-49.9% margin of just shy of 17,000 votes cast. A proposal to increase the operating tax rate ceiling was defeated at that referendum. A better organized campaign in 2001 brought out slightly fewer than 10,000 voters, but produced a 75.8%-to-24.2% favorable vote.

Although school districts in Delaware and throughout the nation routinely put taxing proposals before voters at referendums, the relatively simple process still generates considerable confusion. It is commonplace, for instance, to hear people talk of 'voting for the referendum'. Actually, the school board votes to hold a referendum and frames the questions to be asked. In Delaware, the state Department of Elections conducts the referendum.

Proponents request a 'yes vote' although the machine ballot does not contain questions to be answered 'yes' or 'no'. Voters are asked whether they are 'for' or 'against' a bond issue or additional tax.

Key issue at the Brandywine referendum on May 24, is whether to issue bonds to finance renovation of three schools and the maintenance building, replacement of three schools and relocation of the district's administrative office and bus depot. A total of $50.3 million of local debt would be required if the state's formula for matching local spending for new construction is followed. The amount would be $64 million if the school board's recommendation is followed.

The issue there is the amount the amount of financing the state will provide for construction of new buildings for Brandywood and Lancashire Elementary. The Brandywood building would include a separate wing to house a relocated Bush Early Education Center. The state formula currently calls for a subsidy of $175 per square foot. With construction labor and material costs having increased, the General Assembly is being asked to increase that amount. It would do so by a provision in the annual capital spending legislation enacted in June. Delaware Department of Education has agreed to provide support at the new rate if a new rate is enacted, according to David Blowman, Brandywine's chief financial officer.

Meanwhile, voters at the referendum will be asked two related questions. One is to approve bonds based on the state formula. The second asks for approval of additional local financing to make up the difference between what the state eventually provides and what the Brandywine board has recommended. It also asks authorization for total local financing for the bus depot. If the first question does not receive a favorable vote, the result for the second question would be moot.

If voters were to approve the higher local amount, Brandywine would have the second-highest local bond authorization ever approved in Delaware. Voters in the Red Clay district approved $78 million in local financing in 2002. Christina district now has the second-highest amount, $55.9 million, also approved in 2002.

In any event, voters by approving the bond issues agree to be taxed at whatever rate is required to meet annual debt service obligations. One-twentieth of a bond issue is redeemed each year with a resulting declining amount of interest paid semi-annually.

Brandywine currently has $49.9 million worth of previously issued bonds outstanding, with maturities ranging up to 2023. The debt service tax rate is 12.8 for each $100 of assessed property value. The rates in future years would depend on the timing of bond sales and interest rates the bonds would require. Brandywine has said the maximum increase between now and 2010 would be 18.2 if the board proposal is approved and 14.2 if just the state-formula proposal is approved. The total debt-service rate would decline gradually after 2010.

Doorey has said the district does not intend to seek approval for any additional bond-financed major capital spending for the foreseeable future.

The add-ons, if approved at the referendum, would all be financed by temporary increases in the operating tax rate. That rate is now at the ceiling -- 98.2 -- and the board has declared its intention to stick by a promise made after the last operating rate referendum not to seek an increase until 2007.

At the referendum in 2002 voters approved a one-time add-on to finance construction of all-weather running tracks at the three high schools by a 71.6%-to-28.4% margin.

This time, there are two separate add-on proposals.

One, which would be spread over five years, would finance repairs to and upgrades for sports facilities at several schools. The official referendum information does not include a total cost for those projects, but the district previously gave it as $3.7 million. The data does specify the increases in the tax rate as 4 in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 3.2 in fiscal 2007, 2.5 in fiscal 2008, 1.1 in fiscal 2009, and four-tenths of 1 in fiscal 2010.

The other proposal asks voters to authorize three tax increases to cover a cost previously announced as $4.5 million for building security features, a district-wide emergency notification system, establishment of a safety and security office staffed by at least one full-time administrator, and additional local revenue to cover increases in energy costs and for improved building maintenance.. The proposed increases would be 8 in fiscal 2006, 9 in fiscal 2007, and 3.3 in fiscal 2008.

The district's total tax rate this year $1.2805. The rate is set annually in July with the tax due by Sept. 30.

In material promoting a favorable vote, the district points out that state law entitles property owners age 65 and older, regardless of income, to a 50% credit on the fist $1,000 of property tax owed. However, Brandywine, unlike most other districts, does not pass on the state-financed tax abatement subsidy for primary residences. The law gives school districts the option of keeping that money and applying it to operating costs.

Polls will be open from noon until 9 p.m. They are in every school except Brandywood and Harlan Intermediate as well as the district office, Crestview Apartments and Church of Our Savior. Residents of the district who are 18 or older are eligible to vote, irrespective of whether they are registered to vote in general elections.

2005. All rights reserved.

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