News

March 22, 2005

Residents of the Brandywine School District will also be asked to approve a temporary increase of approximately 12 in the portion of their school tax rate which finances current operations when they vote in May on whether to authorize the sale of bonds to cover the estimated $64 million local cost of the third and final phase of the district's long-range building modernization program.

Including two supplemental operations questions on the voting machine ballot for the capital-spending referendum drew criticism from board member Thomas Lapinski, who voted against official authorization of the  referendum.

"Didn't we say we were not going back to taxpayers for operational funds until 2007?" he asked rhetorically before the board voted on an inclusive referendum package. The comment referred to a promissory statement the board made after voters approved the current rate ceiling in 2002.

The board's vote at its regular monthly business meeting on Mar. 21 climaxed a year-long process, involving a considerable amount of public participation, to craft a program which board president Nancy Doorey, superintendent Bruce Harter and others previously have characterized as reflecting community desires concerning its public school system. The Brandywine district encompasses all of Brandywine Hundred and about half of north Wilmington.

If the proposal is approved, "there will be no request to do major [construction] work for a substantial number of years," Doorey said.

The amount of the operations tax increase which district financial officer David Bowman said can be expected during the first of four years that most of it will be in effect actually exceeds by a cent the estimated average capital tax rate increase which will be required to pay principle and interest on 20-year bonds that will be sold to finance the building program.

That component of the overall tax rate -- now $1.2805 -- is projected to increase to 18.2 by fiscal year 2010, when the bond sales are completed, and then decline gradually until fiscal 2031 as the bonds are retired serially. After the first year, fiscal 2006, the new operations component would decline to about 5, which would be folded into the permanent rate.

In all cases, the rates are applied to each $100 of assessed property values. Unlike some other districts, Brandywine does not differentiate between residential and commercial property in applying its tax rate. In New Castle County, assessed values, established in the early 1980s, are considerably less than the amount for which most properties could be sold now.

While there had been no doubt that the school board would proceed to referendum, Lapinski's negative vote resulted in the authorization resolution receiving only the minimum support required for approval. With Joseph Bumskill and Mark Huxoll absent from the meeting, the tally was four-to-one. Any action by the seven-member board requires four affirmative votes.

Harter told the board that referendum approval at the March meeting was necessary to meet the Department of Elections' timetable for scheduling and conducting a referendum in May and to enable the district to conduct a campaign to secure a favorable vote from the populace.

As Delaforum previously reported, the referendum will be held on May 24. That is a Tuesday, two weeks after voters choose from among six candidates seeking to fill board seats being vacated by Lapinski and David Adkins. Doorey said at the meeting that she thinks at least one of the candidates, whom she did not identify, will drop out of the races.

Just before voting to authorize the referendum, the board added $1 million to one of the previously determined operational proposals to cover an increase in the amount spent on building maintenance. That was added to $3.5 million to enhance security at all district schools and other facilities; cover increases in the district's fuel costs to make up for the state subsidy's failure to keep pace with the rise in energy prices; and expand the district's alternative education program for disruptive students to include those in grades four through six.

The other operational question will involve spending $3.7 million to improve athletic fields at the three district high schools, three middle schools and P.S. du Pont and Claymont Intermediate. A similar proposal involving upgrading of running tracks at the high schools was approved by voters at the last capital-spending referendum, which was held in 2001.

In both instances, the operational taxes would be imposed for a limited time -- the athletic fields component for four years and the other for two.

2005. All rights reserved.

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