July 14, 2005

Brandywine Board of Education will be asked to approve a $123.7 million preliminary operating budget for the current fiscal year. That will be slightly less than 10% higher than the $112.5 million budgeted for the year which ended on Jun. 30.

About a third of the increase will be money budgeted to pay for improvements to athletic fields at several school, increased spending for maintenance, a safety and emergency notification system and increases in the cost of energy. Temporary increases in the operating tax rate ceiling to pay for those things was approved overwhelmingly by voters at a referendum in May.

As Delaforum previously reported, the school board already has approved a 12 increase in the rate at which property tax due by Sept. 30 will be calculated. The total rate is $1.4365 for each $100 of assessed property value. Brandywine does not give residential property owners the state-financed tax reduction as most other districts in the state do. Seniors do get a reduction, also state-financed, paying half of the first $1,000 of their tax.

The amount earmarked to be spent implementing elements of the district's long-range strategic plan will be increased by $510,000. Of that, $500,000 will be used for "early aggressive recruitment of high-quality teachers and staff." That could be offset to the extent that the number of state-authorized positions are sufficient to eliminate the necessity to hire into positions financed entirely by local money.

The other $10,000 in plan-related money will go initiating an International Baccalaureate program and increasing the number of students taking courses which qualify them for advance placement in college.

The proposed spending plan, which the school board  is expected to approve at its monthly business meeting on Jul. 18, contains no significant initiatives beyond those presented at the referendum. Adoption of a preliminary budget establishes a level of spending to begin the academic year. A final version of the budget will be approved in November or December after the amount of state financing, particularly  for salaries and benefits,  is determined.

To balance the budget, the district will dip into its accumulated cash balance  by $1.5 million, leaving an estimated $3.1 million on hand next June 30.

Financial officer David Blowman previously has said the district will be in a tight financial position for this and the 2007 fiscal years. At the last full tax referendum the board committed to not returning to the taxpayers until the spring of 2007. If that holds, it means the district cannot raise the base rate before fiscal 2008.

Property taxes account for nearly 90% of discretionary local revenue, which, in turn,  accounts for 39% of Brandywne's income. The state provides 53% of total revenue and federal financing amounts to 8%.

The preliminary budget is based on an expected enrollment for the coming academic year  of 10,683 students, down slightly from 10,723 in 2004-05. The count, on which the number of state-authorized  teacher and staff positions is based, is taken as of Sept. 30.

Savings as a result of Brandywine withdrawal, effective Dec. 31,  from the consortium operating the Data Service Center will be offset by the cost of gearing up for in-house handling of data processing previously provided by the center. But Blowman said savings in future years will be significant.

Mandated increases in the pension rate for state employees is cited as a matter of concern as is the continuing requirement that districts return a portion of their state financing while the level of that financing is not increasing.

Although the General Assembly did not increase the cost-per-square foot formula for school construction for which the district had hoped, Blowman said the district will receive just under $1.2 million of additional state money toward expansion of Lombardy Elementary and replacement of Brandywood and Lancashire Elementary under a law enacted by the Assembly to assist districts deal with rising construction costs.

2005. All rights reserved.

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