tentative plan for a referendum to be held this spring --
probably in May -- which was unveiled at a sparsely attended
meeting of the school board on Feb. 28 is of record proportions,
according the the state Department of Education.
president Nancy Doorey said it was necessary to proceed with the
regular monthly business meeting despite falling snow because
"we have some really important things to talk about." All seven
board members attended.
board is working on a rather tight schedule. It plans to discuss
the scope of the referendum with an advisory committee on Mar.
7, hold a workshop-style meeting to receive 'input' from the
public on Mar. 14, and on Mar. 24 formally approve the questions
to be put to be put before the voters.
of the plan is implementation of the previously approved $139.4
million renovations project. It calls for 'modernizing' P.S. du
Pont Intermediate and Hanby and Springer Middle schools,
replacing Brandywine and Lancashire Elementary with new
buildings, providing new facilities for its bus fleet, and
relocating administrative offices. The present Bush school
building in Talleyville and the administration building in
Radnor Green would be closed.
voters approve a bond issue to finance the local share of its
cost, the program would get underway with planning before the
end of this year and be completed by the summer of 2012.
been at this (developing that part of the plan) for more than a
year, so there is very little in there that will be a surprise,"
superintendent Bruce Harter told the board.
However, he did reveal that, as of now, the district will have
to finance 46% of the cost while the state puts up 54%. The
normal split is 40%-60%. Delaforum previously reported that
applying the traditional formula was in question, apparently
because the program involves replacing school buildings while
ending up with more capacity than the distict needs.
did not go into detail, but did say that negotiations are still
going on. "It's not quite 60-40 yet, but we're working with the
state on that." is how he put it.
with the split that is presently on the table, he said, would
result in district taxpayers having to pay an average of 11¢ for
each $100 of assessed property value annually over what is
expected to be a 25-year lifespan of the bonds. The actual rate
would vary from year to year, peaking around fiscal year 2010
and declining each year after that. Previous school construction
bond issues have been 20-year bonds. The farther out the final
maturity, annual debt service cost is less but the total cost is
tangentially related matter at the meeting, the board formally
approved selling $6.3 million worth of 20-year bonds to finance
the final installment on the second phase of the renovations
program. The bonds are actually sold to the state treasury,
which pays for them with capital funds advanced to the district.
These bonds carry a 3.83% interest rate. Final project in the
second phase is renovation during the coming academic year of
renovation is the largest component of the Phase 3 project,
nearly $44.5 million. Springer renovation would cost $26 million
and Hanby $24.6 million. Lancashire is expected to come in at
about $14 million and Brandywood at $18.4 million. The new
Brandywood building would have an extra wing to house the
relocated Bush Early Education program. Cost of the bus yard and
maintenance facility, which would require acquiring a property
with eight to 10 acres of usable space, would be about $7
anticipated, there would also be a second proposal on the
referendum ballot to improve athletic fields at P.S., Talley and
Brandywine and Concord Highs. The estimated $3.7 million cost
would be spread over four years and financed by an 'add-on' to
the district's operating tax during the four years. A similar
one-year 'add-on' after the last capital referendum five years
ago financed improvements to the running track at Brandywine
Improving the athletic fields is "all about safety," Harter
tentative plan he presented also contained a second local-funds
'add-on' -- that one for three years -- to pay for $3.5 million
worth of safety and security measures at all district schools.
They would include security cameras, intrusion devices and
provision for controlling access through use of key-cards.
said there is also a need to establish a safety and security
office with at least one full-time administrator and necessary
equipment. That and expansion of its alternative placement
program for disruptive students would also be included in the
safety and security component.
Reacting to an analysis by David Blowman, the district's chief
financial officer, the board requested that Harter work up an
additional referendum component to make up for approximately $3
million in annual financial support from the state and federal
governments that has been 'lost' since the last operating tax
Without "making up unanticipated funding reductions," Doorey
said, "I can't see how we could possibly deliver on everything
we promised in our strategic plan." She suggested that
voters be, in effect, asked in the spring referendum whether
they want to make up the 'lost' revenue with an increase in the
operating tax rate and proceed with the strategic plan as it is
referendum proposal which finally emerges "will be very much
based on what the community wants us to do," Doorey said.
time of the last tax rate referendum four years ago, the board
'promised' that it would not return to the voters for another
increase in the rate ceiling for five years. Financing a
strategic plan to improve teacher quality and classroom
instruction and safety was part of that referendum proposal.
Blowman said in a memo to board members that the district's
locally financed energy costs have risen by $550,000 since
fiscal 2001, but that Governor Ruth Ann Minner's proposed state
budget for the coming fiscal year will provide only an
additional $25,000. Blowman said most of the increase in energy
costs involves increases in the cost of fuel, not an increase in
the amount of fuel consumed.
state has not been keeping up," Doorey said. The additional half
million "is what it takes so our kids are warm enough in their
also expressed resentment over the continued requirement that
school districts 'return' a portion of their state financing. In
Brandywine's case, that amounts to $700,000 a year. When the
'give-back' was first 'requested' as a way to make up for
recession-related declines in state revenue, "the school
districts all played along because we thought it was going to be
for just one year," she said.
stated purpose of the 'give-back' is to allow school districts
to determine what parts of state financing they can forego
instead of that being decided for them in the state budget.
same time, Blowman's memo noted that the proposed increase in
the state-mandated pension rate would cost Brandywine
$310,000. Since fiscal 2001, the rate has almost doubled -- from
7.44% to a proposed 14.75% in fiscal 2006 -- at a total cost to
Brandywine of $1.5 million. That, he said, is equivalent to
about 5¢ in the tax rate.
increases, year after year, are significantly reducing the
district's ability to make discretionary decisions around
budgeting and priorities," Blowman wrote in the memo.
also noted that President George Bush's proposed federal budget
would significantly reduce spending on public education. In
particular, she said, elimination of money to help finance
teacher training and retention will be felt in Brandywne.
Overall, pending reductions in federal support could result in
the loss of 16 classroom teachers unless it is decided to
finance them with local money, she said.
community needs to know what it takes to keep the things they
want," board member Mark Huxoll said. "We don't want to wait
until it runs up to being a crisis."
another possible referendum question would be an increase in the
tax rate to finance better building maintenance. Frank Walton,
chairman of the volunteer maintenance advisory committee, told
the board that the generally accepted industry standard of
spending would cost the district an additional $1.5 million to
$8 million annually.
have over $400 million worth of facilities and you're spending
just $1 million [for maintenance] a year," he said. Generally
accepted industry standards call for spending between 2% and 4%
of a building's replacement value annually.
said that building renovation as practiced by Brandywine results
in "buildings that look spectacular" during the first five years
after it is completed but which then start to decline over the
remainder of the work's 20-year lifespan. "As it gets toward the
end of the cycle, you have a shabby building," he said.
recommended that the district, and other districts which are in
the same boat, "work with the state legislature and state
Department of Education" to have the formulas for financing
minor capital improvements and custodial maintenance made more
member Craig Gilbert said financing an increased level of
locally supported building maintenance would be a logical
addendum to the spring referendum. Otherwise, "we're putting all
those funds into buildings and we're not taking care of them,"