March 8, 2005

Brandywine School District will mount an extensive campaign, conducted largely by volunteers, to muster a favorable vote in its coming capital referendum.

"We have two very credible referenda behind us. We told the community what we did and we did it," Charles Landry said at an inaugural meeting of a referendum advisory committee on Mar. 7.

Although Cyndi Lehm, co-chair of referendum steering committee, which gave rise to the advisory committee, pointed out that the school board has not yet set a date for the referendum, a printed form seeking to enlist volunteers, gave it as May 24, a Tuesday.

The board is expected to formally approve seeking voter authorization to borrow money through a bond issue to finance the district's share of the cost to renovate three schools -- P.S. du Pont Intermediate and Hanby and Springer Middle --  and construct two new buildings to house Brandywood and Lancashire Elementary as well as the Bush Early Education Center. That will constitute the third part of a three-phase building modernization program begun in the mid-1990s. Also planned is a new depot for the district's bus fleet and a maintenance facility.

The district share of the cost would be $63,969,162, or 45.8% of the total cost, $139,382,078. That proportion is greater the 40% that public school districts in Delaware usually put up to match a 60% state share.

Superintendent Bruce Harter said the district is still hopeful it can convince Delaware Department of Education officials to come closer to 60% by raising the present maximum cost per square foot of new construction that the state will support.

As it stands now, the district will have to pay 54.3% of the $14 million estimated cost of a new Lancashire and  53.9% of an estimated $18.4 million for a new Brandywood. Brandywood will cost more because that building will have an additional wing in which to house Bush.

Harter said that exceeding the state's per-square-foot maximum will cost an additional $7 million to be financed over the proposed 25-year life of the bonds. He expressed confidence that "our taxpayers will pay a little bit more for quality buildings that will last 35 to 50 years."

By authorizing the sale of bonds, district residents agree to an annual levy to cover debt service. The present debt service component of Brandywine $1.2785 tax rate is 12.6. The average debt service tax increase to finance the new bonds would be 11. That would peak in the first five or so years and decline after that. The tax rate is applied to each $100 of assessed property value.

Because of the level of state support in Delaware, property taxes here are considerably lower than in most states, he said.

As previously reported, it is also planned to go before the voters with at least two additional proposals which would be financed by short-term add-ons to the operating tax component of the tax rate. They would authorize spending $3.7 million on athletic facilities and $3.5 million to improve safety and security in all the district's buildings.

Harter told the advisory committee meeting that the district will commission an independent study later this year to look into the future of school bus transportation in Brandywine. That could include 'out-sourcing' some or all of it. Harter indicated he does not presently favor that and Jeff Viar, the district's transportation supervisor, said he does not. Brandywine is the only public school district in the state which operates all its buses.

Viar said that private bus contractors bid on routes they can cover profitably and leave those that are more costly to service to the districts. Savings that might achieve would be relatively small and come at the expense of control of the system and supervision of drivers, he said.

Harter said it has been decided that students will be assigned to 'holding schools' while their buildings are being renovated. Those from P.S., Hanby and Springer will be housed in the high-rise Burnett building in Wilmington. Brandywood and Lancashire students will go to the present Lancashire building. The P.S. kindergarten will be relocated to Mount Pleasant Elementary.

That means that the Burnett building will be in use at least until 2010, after which its fate will be determined. He said the plan is to demolish both the Bush building and the present administrative office building in Radnor Green and lease those sites to New Castle County government to be used and maintained as parks. In that way, the district retains ownership of the properties against the possibility they may be needed some time in the future. The administrative staff will be moved to the Mount Pleasant Elementary building near Bellefonte, Harter said.

Project manager John Read said that it was more costly to do the work while the schools were in use, which is what happened at both Concord High and Mount Pleasant Elementary. The work was done at night, at premium wage rates, and workers were paid those same rates while spending the hour or so that was necessary to clean up at the end of the shift so the building could be used during the day.

Lehm said it is intended that the referendum campaign will be financed by donations -- from both businesses and individuals -- rather than with the district's public funds. The campaign will include paid advertising, telephone calls to all district residents, lawn signs, public appearances, and special events at all the schools.

"The is going to be a big effort. It is going to take a lot of people to get it done properly, said John Skrobot, the steering committee's other co-chair. "We're going to hit the heart strings of the community."

2005. All rights reserved.

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