July 19, 2005

Brandywine Board of Education, as expected, unanimously approved 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.

Financial officer David Blowman said the spending plan was based on several "conservative assumptions" and if revisions are necessary when he presents a final version in December they probably will be downward.

"A lot of the increase is one-time and is directly related to the referendum," he told the board on Jul. 18. That referred to 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.

Blowman told the board that actual spending in fiscal 2005 came within a whisker of hitting the target. The district ended the year just nine-one hundredths of one percent over budget. Transportation costs were 13.8% over budget, largely because of increased fuel costs. That was offset by several spending categories coming in at less than budgeted, but he said some of that was deferred spending.

In a separate matter at the meeting, the board approved a 4%  increase in the base upon which administrators' salaries are calculated to $98,800. Superintendent Bruce Harter said that move was necessary to make Brandywine more competitive with other northern Delaware districts in recruiting and keeping administrators. "We're competitive with teachers, but not administrators," he said.

Blowman said that the increase "will in no way put us at the top of the tree" in that regard. But Harter added, "Looking at our budget and what we can do,  this is the best that we can do at this time."

Board member Mark Huxsoll said the increase strikes "a balance between using tax dollars and holding on to the people we need to do the job."

Annual salaries of Brandywine administrators are set between 90%  and $115% of the base plus a 2% performance component of which 60% is tied to a measure of student performance districtwide. The base is the salary of a principal of a primary school with other positions scaled upward or downward from that depending on their level of responsibility.

Added to the salary schedule were a category of manager, at the level of an assistant principal, and three grades of "mid-level professionals'. Blowman said that was necessary to staff an expanded technology department to provide in-house data processing previously provided by the center. Those positions did not dovetail with the existing salary schedule.

The amount earmarked in the preliminary budget  to be spent implementing elements of the district's long-range strategic plan is  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 spending plan contains no significant initiatives beyond those presented at the referendum.

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.

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 Data Service Center consortium will be offset by the cost of bringing data processing in-house. 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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