in the Brandywine School District will probably have
less money for discretionary spending in the coming
academic year as the district tightens its belt to
avert a financial crisis.
Rolling back the 5% increase
in school budgets that was given in this fiscal year was the
most difficult decision that had to be made while crafting
the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2007, chief financial
officer David Blowman told the school board. "It was the
last thing to come out and will be the first to go back in
if [the financial situation] is better in December than
projected," he said.
Principals, he said, normally
do not exceed their discretionary budgets and are permitted
to carry over unspent money into the next fiscal year. The
allotments are based on the number of students in a school.
The board approved a
tentative $132.8 million budget, up 3.5% from a year ago.
Projected spending of $131.1 million, a 4.6% increase, would
leave a carryover balance of $1.7 million on June 30, 2007.
That would be down from just over $3 million expected this
year and the lowest since fiscal 2002 when the district
found itself with $908,800 at the end of the year. The
carryover is used to meet expenses during the summer months,
pending receipt of state funds after the academic year
The board set a tax rate of
$1.4925 for each $100 of assessed property value for the
coming year, a 3.8% increase over the current year. The
increases are in the debt-service and tuition-tax rates,
which are not subject to referendum, and safety, security
and energy spending approved by voters in 2005, partly
offset by a decrease in the temporary rate for athletic
fields improvements. Brandywine has been at the ceiling for
the voter-approved operating tax rate since fiscal 2005.
The tax bill for a typical
residential property assessed at $75,000 will be $1,120.
Assessment is based on 1984 market value and is considerably
lower than what the property would fetch now. School taxes
are due on Sept. 30.
At its meeting on June 26,
the board hired Andrew Brandenberger, who retired in July,
2005, after six years as superintendent of the Cape Henlopen
School District, to be interim superintendent until a
national search finds a successor for Bruce Harter, who is
leaving to be superintendent of the Richmond, Calif., school
district. Brandenberger, who lives in Milton, was director
of facilities in Brandywine before going to the eastern
Sussex County district.
Each member of the board paid
public tribute to Harter at the meeting. Board president
Craig Gilbert credited Harter's leadership style with
"involving hundreds and hundreds of people ... [which]
resulted in the overwhelming community support we have"
while improving academic achievement of Brandywine students.
Blowman told the board that
the coming 12 months will be "a very, very lean year" if the
district is going to "make sure not to get to the point next
summer where we have trouble [meeting] payroll."
In addition to trimming the
principals' budgets, he said the district is going to "look
very closely" at positions which become vacant through
attrition to decide which ones should be filled. As of now,
the budget anticipates cutting the number of positions
financed entirely from local funds to 32 from 37, with the
possible result that will increase the average size of
classes, he said.
He added that the district
will evaluate the cost-benefit relation of having an outside
service provide substitutes for absent teachers, as has been
done for the past 18 months. Among possible moves in that
area would be to require principals to use their
discretionary funds to pay the cost of replacing teachers
absent beyond 10 days. Absences are for a variety of reasons
in addition to illness and allowed personal time, such as
In general, he said, "we have
to decide what expenditures can be delayed for one year."
On the other hand, Blowman
reported, the district will not take as big a hit on its
energy bill as had been expected. Participating in the state
consortium to buy electricity at negotiated rates, is
expected to 'save' about $700,000. The state also is
providing an increase in the amount it provides to school
districts to meet energy costs. On balance, he said, while
energy is significantly more expensive "it could have been a
whole lot worse."
An apparently significant
unfavorable trend, he said, is a drastic slowing in the rate
at which properties are coming onto the tax rolls in
Brandywine Hundred and north Wilmington. Total assessed
value this year is up just one-tenth of 1%, compared to an
historic average of between 1% and 1½%
a year, he said. That is illustrative, he added, of "the
major underlying demographics we face."
Despite its relative austerity,
the preliminary budget provides for carrying forward all
elements of the district's strategic plan and what it
promised voters at the time of the 2002 tax referendum. It
also keeps the promise made then not to go back for an
increase in the tax ceiling for five years, he said.
Blowman clearly indicated that the
fiscal 2007 budget is premised on the likelihood that
an increase in the ceiling will be approved at the next
referendum, which probably will be held in the spring
of 2007. "We simply have to pass [sic] that referendum," he
He emphasized, however, that cost
cutting in the preliminary budget and the final version the
board will be asked to approve in December are not intended
to influence support for a tax increase.
"We're not doing this just for a
referendum; we're doing it now because [the situation] is
real," he said. "We know where we are, we know where we're
headed, and we have time."
During the tributes to Harter,
board member Joseph Brumskill credited the outgoing
superintendent for changing "the racial attitudes in the
district." Blumskill, who is black, said he approached
Harter early-on about race relations and, after that initial
conversation, "I knew I had a friend I could work with."
Harter, he said, encouraged him to seek election to the
In his final superintendent's
report to the board, Harter noted that "students of color"
were among those honored for academic achievements at this
year's high school graduations. "That hadn't happened in
Brandywine before," Harter said.
Nancy Doorey, the only current
member who was on the board when Harter was hired five years
ago, choked with emotion as she delivered a tribute which
said "the right to learn [is] at the core of what you stand
Debra Heffernan said Harter's
response to the needs of special-education students
impressed her tremendously "You were the first paid member
of the Special Needs P.T.A.," she said. That is an advocacy
group formed to improve the district's services to those
Olivia Johnson-Harris said
Harter's vision has been responsible for "such a tremendous
change in the Brandywine School District [and] the direction
that you put is in."
"I've called you many times and
you always called back. We never had a bad word between us,"
Sandra Skelley said. Mark Huxsoll referred to Harter as
"somebody I like to be connected with."
In another matter at the meeting,
the board was told in the quarterly report on the strategic
plan that the district has reduced the early-attrition
rate among newly hired teachers to 22% in the 2004-05
academic year, the latest for which complete data is
available, from 47$ in 2001-02.
Debbie Bullock, director of human
services, reported that Brandywine ranks 22nd among 32
districts in the region that were surveyed in starting
salaries for teachers, 15th for those in mid-career and 20th
for those at the top of the scale. In that regard, it ranks
higher than the other New Castle County districts, including
the vocational district, except for Christina which stands
higher in the mid- and upper levels.