likely to result in drastic cuts
to obtain voter approval to increase the Brandywine School
District operations tax rate for the coming fiscal year probably
will result in a package of budget cuts which will include an
across-the-board layoff of 5% of teachers, administrators and
support staff members; closing an elementary school; and cutting
sports and other extracurricular programs by about a third.
That, superintendent James
Scanlon told an emergency workshop session of the school board,
will be in addition to not being able to implement the
district's new strategic plan, including full-day tuition-free
kindergarten, and increasing the levels of building maintenance
and technology use.
He said $4 million worth of local
spending will have to be slashed. That is about 10.5% of the
portion of the budget financed by local revenue.
Although the board has not
formally approved going back to voters following their rejection
of a total proposed increase of 38.2¢ per $100 of assessed value
in the operations tax rate, discussion at the workshop on Apr.
27 left no doubt that will be done when the board reconvenes for
an emergency business meeting on Apr. 30.
The workshop was attended by five
of the seven board members. Absent were Mark Huxsoll and Sandra
Skelly. The audience was noticeably larger than it is at most
Scanlon said public-notice
requirements and the Department of Elections process provide a
23-day 'window' between June 4 and 26, inclusive, during which a
second referendum can be held. He recommended doing it "as soon
as possible" in order to eliminate uncertainty about what will
happen when the fiscal year turns on July 1.
State law allows school districts
to hold no more than two referendums in any 12-month period.
That means a third Brandywine try could not take place until
late April of 2008.
The board must set the fiscal
2008 tax rate by July 12. The tax is due by Sept. 30.
The most dramatic immediate
consequence of the 52%-to-47% rejection of the two-component tax
proposal will be formally notifying employees who will 'riffed'.
That is jargon for being included in the reduction in force.
Under state law, those letters have to be sent by May 15.
Scanlon said law and the district's union contracts require
that layoffs be based on seniority, which means the latest to be
hired will be at the top of the lists.
Noting that Brandywine in recent
years has made a concerted effort to hire the most promising of
new teachers coming into the job market, board vice president
Nancy Doorey said that "it will be a real shame to have those
people grabbed by other districts" during the time between their
being notified they will be let go and when the result of the
second referendum will be known and, if favorable, they can be
recalled. That, she said, underscores the importance of agreeing
with Scanlon's recommendation that vote be taken as soon as
Before it can be done, however,
the board faces a monumental challenge to determine what it will
ask voters to approve. There appeared to be agreement that the
size of the proposed increase and the prospect of imposing all
but a small portion of it immediately were the key reasons the
proposal was defeated.
Doorey suggested that the board's
having promised not to seek another tax hike for five years
after the 2002 referendum resulted in Brandywine's present
do-or-die financial situation. She said a four- or three-year
gap might be more appropriate this time. Chief financial officer
David Blowman said the longer the gap the higher the tax
increase must be.
Doorey also said that some public
misconceptions probably contributed to defeat of the tax
proposal. Using 2004 data -- the most recent available -- from
Standard & Poor's, a financial research firm, she said
Brandywine's general administrative costs were $92 per student
compared to an average $109 for all districts in the state and
$94 for those in New Castle County. School administration was
$599, which also was the county average, and compared to $575
for the state.
On the other hand, she said,
Brandywine's payments to other school systems were $94 per
student, sharply lower than $405 for the state and $441 for the
county. That, she said, reflects the relative popularity of
Brandywine schools vis-à-vis charter schools and schools in
other districts accessible through the state's school-choice
She also said references to an
end-of-fiscal-year carryover was misleading in that that is
money needed primarily to meet the district's payroll during the
summer months. Blowman said that is because components of school
financing are not in synch. The fiscal year begins July 1, but
taxes are not collected until September and county government,
which does the collecting, does not begin to remit the proceeds
to the district until late October. Also, he said, all but a
handful of teachers now opt to be paid 26 times a year rather
than just in the 10 months they work so summer payrolls are not
much different from those in other months.
The carryover at the end of this
fiscal year is estimated to be about $2 million -- which Blowman
previously has said provides an extremely narrow margin with
which to meet summer obligations.
Board member Joseph Brumskill
said he regrets that school districts must seek voter approval
before they can increase most of their tax rates. In proposing a
17% increase in its property tax rate, New Castle County
government "didn't ask the people -- they told the people they
are going to raise the tax," he said.
Board member Debra Heffernan said
that when the new tax proposal is crafted "the strategic plan
for the most part must be kept intact."
Noting that there were several
elements in the defeated proposal and "good reason for
[including] every item we put into the referendum plan,"
president Craig Gilbert said he and his board colleagues are
going to have to make some tough choices to come up with a
proposal that district residents will support the second time
"Remember, 4,800 [voters] said
'no.' If we don't listen, we won't be increasing programs; we'll
be reducing programs and affecting people's lives. We're laying
off teachers and affecting student learning," he said.
Scanlon said implementing
full-day kindergarten already has fallen victim to defeat of the
tax increase. Even if the second attempt is successful, he said,
time constraints have pushed back the start of the program from
this coming academic year to the 2008-09 year.
Blowman cautioned against too
strong an affinity for preserving the various elements of the
defeated tax proposal. "If you set the rate high enough, you can
keep them all. We tried that and it didn't work," he said.
The district has undertaken a
survey, requesting that the public respond anonymously to a set
of questions posted on its website or available in printed form
at the district office. Comments about the referendum and reason
for negative votes received by telephone are also being
In addition to what he described
as a preliminary but nearly final list of budget cuts that
will be required if the second attempt to increase the tax rate
fails, Scanlon said some immediate steps have already been
taken. They include imposition of freezes on hiring, purchase of
anything not considered essential, and all travel.
"The district as a whole has
taken [those cuts] very cooperatively," he said.
To come up with his list of
proposed longer-term cuts, Scanlon said he endeavored to
"maintain as best we can the integrity of [instructional]
In addition to layoffs, closing a
school and reducing extracurricular activities, his list
includes holding off on purchasing new textbooks, limiting the
use of substitute teachers, restricting professional
development, not accepting a new seventh-grade class into the
International Baccalaureate Program, reducing the number of
disruptive students who can be accommodated in the
alternative-education program, significantly reducing purchases
of supplies and equipment, 'outsourcing' some functions now
performed in house, publishing fewer issues of the Brandywine
Review, restricting payment of dues to professional
organizations, and reducing the amount of data gathering.
"We're looking at everything and
anything. ... One way or another, we have to get to $4 million
[in cuts] next year," he said.
When Doorey asked, apparently
rhetorically, if the list was intended as a list of options,
Scanlon replied, "No. We would have to do all of these.'