president Nancy Doorey confirmed that the board has "tentatively
looked at a May date" for conducting the referendum, which had
been expected to follow approval in November of a plan for the
third and final phase of the district's long-term modernization
and building renovation project. The district last held a
capital referendum in May, 2001, which authorized $38.4 million
of debt financing for the second phase.
board at its monthly business session on Jan. 24, agreed that it
would set the date for voting at its March meeting after
receiving a referendum plan and holding a public
'workshop'-style meeting to review it.
Meanwhile, the district has established a 'referendum steering
committee'. The usual function of such committees it to devise
and manage a campaign to obtain voter approval of the question
addition to seeking approval to sell bonds to finance the local
share of a record $126.5 million renovation plan, she said the
board also will consider including up "a major upgrade to our
athletic fields" and "perhaps a technology piece." Board member
Craig Gilbert said there also is a need to finance an
"across-the-board security upgrade."
current tax rate is $1.2805 for each $100 of assessed property
value. Of that 12.8¢ covers debt service. By approving the sale
of bonds, voters agree to the district's annually setting the
rate at whatever level is necessary to finance principle and
interest on outstanding bonds in the fiscal year.
financial officer David Blowman told Delaforum that the state
Department of Education has said it will approve replacing the
Lancashire and Brandywood Elementary buildings with new ones,
but what percentage of that cost will be paid with state money
is still being negotiated. The usual financing ratio for school
construction is 60% state and 40% local.
'certificate of necessity', which is required to qualify for
state capital financing and is subject to voter approval to
finance the local share of the project cost, is presently "in
draft form [but] it looks encouraging," Blowman said.
board bogged down on approving 'procedures' for accommodating
religious observances and sent proposed ones back to the
district staff for further work after Gilbert argued strenuously
that some of them would be unfair to Jewish students.
having grown up with this type of discrimination, I feel
uncomfortable," he said.
sticking point was a provision that would gave school
administrators and teachers leeway in determining whether to
schedule such things as plays, concerts and athletic events on
major holydays 'recognized' by the school board. At present, the
board 'recognizes' only the Jewish new year, Yom Kippur and the
first day of Passover. That was done several years ago at the
request of the Jewish community.
proposed 'procedures' -- which district officials have defined
as something other than a policy -- would permit other groups to
apply for similar recognition. Doorey noted that the major
Christian holydays, Christmas and Good Friday, are state
holidays and therefore not in need of special consideration.
proposed 'procedures' would grant excused absences to students
to observe the Jewish holydays with automatic permission to make
up missed academic work without any direct or indirect penalty
and without jeopardizing such things as a perfect-attendance
said that she would not favor a blanket prohibition against
conflicting events. Students, she said, can make a choice
between the activity and a religious observance, just as the can
decide in the event of other conflicts.Practice in the district
is to include participation in religious as well as other family
events as a valid justification for an excused absence to be
granted on an individual basis.
Gilbert said permitting schools to schedule conflicting events
puts Jewish students in an unfair position of having to decide
between them and subjecting themselves to peer pressure. He
rejected the argument that a prohibition discriminated against a
majority of students likely to participate. "If just two Jewish
students have to stand up and say okay, what are they going to
do? It puts them in a very bad position," he said.
is what brought the issue forward. The district administration
last September forced the Mount Pleasant High band to cancel a
planned trip to a band competition in Pennsylvania. In previous
years, the prohibition against such activities was, at best,
Assistant superintendent Tammy Davis, who represented the
administration in the absence of superintendent Bruce Harter,
sidestepped a question of whether the district was wrong in the
Mount Pleasant situation. But staff attorney Ellen Cooper
indicated at another point in the conversation that the previous
approach to accommodating holydays was, at the least, risky.
said the district has to beware of a fine line between
accommodation and "an establishment of religion" which is
outlawed by the U.S. Constitution. The school district is a
state agency. She said the determination lies not with
permitting or encouraging a religious observance but with what
effect the resultant absence of a significant number of students
would have on the academic program.
can't recognize a religious practice unless it affects a large
number of students districtwide. ... You have to treat all
groups that request 'recognition' alike," she said.
said she was unable to define the term "a large number of
students", which is used in the draft 'procedures'.
said she would revise the proposed 'procedures' in consultation
with Gilbert and bring another version back to the board at a
board also ratified a a labor contract with the United Auto
Workers, which represents Brandywine school bus drivers. As
Delaforum previously reported, based on information gathered
from union sources, the contract calls for 4% raises in the
district's share of the drivers' pay this academic year and
next. Other details have not been public.
the public comment section of the meeting, Donald Carter, a
retired bus driver, questioned why the contract did not include
retired or former drivers. That, he said, was promised when
drivers approved the United Auto Workers as their bargaining
agent. Cooper said that no one raised that point during contract
was no discussion of the contract during the portion of the
board meeting open to the public and the motion to ratify was
simply to approve what had been discussed in closed-door
executive session. The published agenda said only that
"information will be provided [sic] in the Friday memo." That
presumably refers incorrectly to it having been provided in a
previous memo since it would seem more likely to provide
information before, rather than after, a board vote. Board
members receive a packet of information from the district
administration each week and such information is not made
said Delaforum can see the contract only in response to a formal
request filed under terms of the state Freedom of Information
Act. Such a request has been submitted.
Personnel director Debbie Bullock told the board that the
district plans "an aggressive effort to recruit quality
teachers" this year. Recruiting, she said, will be done at
employment events as far afield as Chicago and Houston. The idea
is to have prospective applicants sign 'letters of intent' well
in advance of the usual summertime hiring season.
said DelDOE does the Brandywine district a disservice by
publishing hiring statistics based on the date of signing a
contract rather than an agreement to do so. "We're doing [early
hiring] more aggressively than any other district," she said. If
data is based on contract signings close to the reopening of
schools "that gets published in the newspaper and makes it look
like we're doing a horrific job." It is assumed that, by August,
the field has been picked over and the more highly qualified
education graduates have long since been landed.
Blowman told the board that none of the money earmarked for
teacher recruitment in recent past budgets was spent. He
explained that that money was intended to provide for paying the
salaries of teachers above the number the state authorizes based
on enrollment in the event more are recruited and hired than are
needed to meet the authorized total. Four such situations would
have occurred this academic year had the district not received
additional federal and state money for special programs, he
Bullock reported that the district this year hired 92 new
teachers, of whom 74 were women and 82 were white. This year,
she said, it expects to hire about 100. There were 30
retirements and 27 resignations which created vacancies for this
year. There are 54 eligible for retirement this year, of whom 18
have said they will do so. Brandywine pays a bonus to those who
make known their retirement plans early in the year.
board also approved hiring Robert Ziegler from the state
Department of Labor to be public information officer, effective
Jan. 31. His salary was not disclosed. He will succeed Wendy
Lapham who resigned to take a similar job in the Christina