board gets plan for a bright
but is told present is cloudy
of the Brandywine School District will have opportunities in January to comment on
five-year strategic plan and to provide the money to finance
it at a tax referendum in the spring.
The ambitious plan, which
lists eight goals and 17 strategies to attain them, was
presented to the school board in draft form at a meeting on
Dec. 18 at which the board also was told the district will
come down to the wire on honoring its 2002 pledge to not
hold another operating-tax referendum for five years with
barely enough in its coffers to carry it though until new
revenue becomes available in early autumn.
The board approved a final
version of a $119.7 million operating budget for the current
fiscal year, ending June 30, and set Feb. 12 as the date for
approving the final version of the plan.
Chief financial officer David
Blowman told the board that there is a possibility the
district will not end the fiscal year with sufficient
carryover to meet its final payroll in September. However,
he added, "I think we'll be able to squeak through."
He said the budget
anticipates spending $2.1 million more in the second half of
the fiscal year than in the like portion of fiscal 2007 but
that will result in a carryover of $1.3 million about the
same as last year. The state Department of Education
requires that school districts end the fiscal year with
sufficient carryover to meet their needs for the first
quarter of the next year. School taxes are not due until
Sept. 30 and state appropriations, in general, do not become
available until an enrollment count is made, also at the end
Blowman added that, while the
district's present financial situation "is not a crisis," it
points up the "critical importance of success [at] the next
referendum." The board has not yet set a date nor determined
what it will seek in the way of a higher ceiling on the
operating tax. The rate is now at the ceiling, 51.4¢ for
each $100 of assessed property value, in addition to a
county-wide rate of 46.8¢, left over from the years when
there was a single county district.
Presenting an executive
summary of the strategic plan, Michelle Kutch, science
content specialist and co-chair of the strategic plan
committee, said it is intended to "make Brandywine School
District among the best in the region by 2012."
The key provision in the plan
is that the district commit to preparing all its students
for either higher education or beginning a career.
Superintendent James Scanlon
told the meeting that he and other administrators have
already begun drafting 'action plans' and determining the
costs that will be required to implement them. That will be
at least partly ready for presentation at public meetings on
Jan. 8 -- at Brandywine High School -- and Jan. 16 -- at
P.S. du Pont Intermediate School. Both sessions are
scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Board vice president Nancy
Doorey said the plan will have to be accompanied by as many
specifics as possible "when we go to the community with a
referendum proposal ... seeking community consensus and
asking the community to help make it a reality."
and assigned strategies are:
• "Establish a district-wide
culture of high academic expectations, collective
responsibility, individual accountability and contagious
enthusiasm in support of leaning for all students, staff and
§ "Use the school
improvement planning process to improve student and staff
performance and to drive continuous improvement in student
learning, inclusive practices, equity and the leaning
• "Ensure that all students
are college- and career-ready and are prepared to meet the
requirements of the ever-changing global economy."
§ "Ensure that the
required curriculum, programs and services are used to help
each student acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to
actively participate and succeed in a diverse and
• "Provide strong educational
leaders, highly qualified teachers and professional
development aligned with expectations for staff in a
standards-based school district.
§ "Recruit, support
and retain high quality administrators and teachers.
§ "Ensure a clear,
comprehensive professional development plan to provide all
principals and teachers with the skills necessary to enable
all students to reach high academic standards.
§ "Ensure that
regularly scheduled grade-level team collaborative time is
available to plan for student instruction based on student
§ "Ensure effective
and efficient use of teachers, support personnel and
resources to meet the learning needs of all students.
§ "Provide a
comprehensive staff development plan to meet the needs of
non-certified and non-administrative staff in a
standards-based school district.
• "Ensure that all students
are given every opportunity to master the curriculum by
utilizing all available techniques, such as the use of time,
instructional resources and materials, student supports and
§ "Ensure support for
student learning and social growth in each academic and
§ "Ensure that each
student achieving below Brandywine and state standards is
provided additional instructional time.
§ "Ensure the
effective and efficient use of instructional technology as a
resource to help students learn.
§ "Ensure that all
schools provide a safe environment that is conducive to
• "Ensure the district
benchmark and formative assessments are aligned to district
curriculum; assess the range of curricular objectives; and
[yield] reliable and timely information about student
§ "Ensure that all
teachers and principals directly monitor student performance
data in order to close the achievement gap and improve
leaning for all students.
• "Ensure early, immediate
and intense intervention at multiple levels for all students
when acceleration of learning is recognized.
§ "Provide a system of
recognition, intervention and adjustment to the
instructional program for each student who falls below
§ "Improve the
partnership and collaboration [among] the community,
district schools, students and parents in support of student
• "Increase the proportion of
students engaging in co-curricular activities to deepen
relationships between the school and community, increase
academic achievement and develop talent and character.
§ "Maximize use of
co-curricular activity to increase student achievement;
develop positive relationships and character; and to
establish better connections between the school and
opportunities for student growth in areas outside the core
• "Continuously improve the
effectiveness and efficiency of district operations.
§ "Implement standards
of best management practices and use community expertise to
Scanlon said 89 people, drawn
from the community as well as district staff, participated in a
nine-month process to draft the plan. Complicating the already
complex task was the fact that their work overlapped the tenures
of himself and two other superintendents.
Blowman said he is preparing a
"cost-containment package" to be submitted to the board at its
January meeting. The district finance committee required that as
a condition for its approving his presentation of the final
version of the budget. The committee set the amount to be cut at
"I do not believe [that] will
result in draconian reductions, but it cannot be attained
without pain." he said. "We have to be extremely conservative"
in spending practices.
Doorey said the district "can't
go much further [in cutting costs] without injuring kids and
[staff] morale" and suggested that Blowman approach DelDOE
seeking temporary financial assistance.
Blowman responded that he thinks
he can design cuts "without any significant impact on students
in the classroom."
"I prefer that we find a
way internally to get through ... rather than have terms imposed
on us in a very political environment," he said.
Blowman said the present
situation comes as no surprise. "We've known it was coming for
the past two years and now it's here," he said.
He said failure of state
appropriations to keep up with the rate of increase in such
things as energy costs has been a major development that was
unforeseen at the time the 2002 tax referendum was designed.
"Every dollar we spend on energy is a dollar less that we have
to spend on instruction," he said.
District enrollment, upon which
most state support is based ,continues to decline. This academic
year's official count, 10,406, is down by 239 students from last
Brandywine, he said,
continues to lose students to charter schools. Primarily as the
result of new ones opening this year, the district will pay out
an estimated $1.9 million, up significantly from $1.45 million
last year. This year's charter payment more than offset $392,000
netted as the result of students transferring into Brandywine
under the school-choice law.
Moreover, he said, property
assessment in the district remains virtually static while
general inflation continues. "Since there is no underlying
growth in our revenue base, the only way we can get revenue in
the long term is by going back to our community and asking them
to raise the [tax] rate," he said.