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June  26,  2007

Gilbert and Doorey complete
service on Brandywine board

An era came to an end in the Brandywine School District, but not until a final postscript was added.

Before school board president Craig Gilbert and vice president Nancy Doorey completed their service at the board's final scheduled meeting during their tenure, they and their colleagues retreated behind closed doors for one final executive session before completing the last item on the evening's agenda. That involved ratification of a labor contract with the union representing the district's bus drivers.

Earlier in the meeting on June 25, the board:

Approved a 13.4% increase in the property-tax rate for the coming fiscal year.

Was told that Lancashire Elementary and Springer Middle Schools are not likely candidates for closure when a soon-to-be-appointed committee considers what to do about excess capacity in the district's buildings.

Received modifications to the student 'code of conduct' which included anti-bullying provisions.

Extended for a year the contract of in-house lawyer Ellen Cooper.

Gilbert and Doorey were hailed for several years of service as board members and in other volunteer capacities. Gilbert is completing a five-year term on the board. Having chosen not to seek re-election, he will be succeeded by Patricia Hearn, who will be seated at the July meeting. Doorey, who has completed three years of her second term, has resigned. The board in July will begin the process of appointing a successor to complete her term. At that time it also will elect a new president and vice president.

Superintendent James Scanlon said both will be asked to continue their involvement with the district in various capacities in the future. Gilbert has already agreed to remain a member of the renovations oversight committee, switching hats from being one of two board representatives to become a community representative.

Scanlon described Gilbert as "a wonderful individual who cares very much for the kids in this district."

Of Doorey he said, "The impact she has had on this school district has been astronomical."

Gilbert said he came to understand the satisfaction classroom teachers experience when "seeing young kids and some older kids grasping concepts" they have been taught. On the other hand, he said he has experienced disappointment over "the kids we don't reach" who drop out before completing high school. He added that the Brandywine drop-out rate is low, compared to other districts, and expressed a hope that it will be taken even lower.

"Brandywine School District is a leader in education in Delaware and these two have had a significant influence on that," Scanlon said.

The board approved the bus drivers' contract after Jean Remschussel, one of two drivers who attended the meeting, asked that it be rejected. She said drivers voted earlier to ratify the pact without being informed that one of its provisions called for the district to state drivers' pay as a combined sum. Previously, the portion financed by the state and the portion paid by the district were expressed separately. That detail is significant, she explained, because union dues are calculated on the basis of a member's pay. The district portion is by far the smaller one.

Earl Lofland, the other driver at the meeting, told news media members covering the meeting, that union officials counted the ratification votes behind closed and locked doors and questioned whether members received an honest count.

Lofland said union members were given a summary of what union officials said here the 'highlights' of the agreement, but did not have access to the complete document before their ratification vote. The dues provision was not included in the summary, he said.

The board had discussed the contract, with United Auto Workers Local 1183, in executive session prior to the public meeting. After completing other business, Gilbert requested a vote to return to executive session to possibly reconsider what had been decided earlier. The six board members present returned after a short session to vote unanimously to ratify.

Doorey said they had no alternative because the U.A.W. was duly chosen by the drivers to represent them in collective bargaining. "The district [administration] negotiated in good faith," she said. "What the union did or did not do is not a board decision." She added that labor law provides the drivers with "other options should they choose to take them."

Remschussel thanked the board for its consideration and said she and other drivers "intend to do [our] job to the best of [our] ability ... for the benefit of the children and their safety and education."

As it has done in the past, the board justified the closed-door sessions on the grounds that labor contracts are personnel matters shielded from the state's Freedom of Information Act and allegedly cannot be disclosed until after ratification by both parties. Other terms of the contract were not disclosed publicly at the meeting and Delaforum's request for that information was not honored before this article was prepared.

The tax rate for the year beginning July 1 was set at $1.69 for each $100 of assessed property value, up from $1.49 in the year now ending. The increase was about five percentage points lower than had

been expected as a result of the June 4 referendum.

A 25 increase in the local current-expense rate authorized at the referendum was offset by a decrease in the rate to raise money to upgrade athletic fields and provide additional safety and security, which was authorized at the 2005 capital referendum.

Also, chief financial officer David Blowman said, a 1 increase in debt-service 

Brandywine tax rate

      FY 2008 FY2007 Change

District current expense

$0.764

$0.514

48.6%

Temporary add-on*

$0.058

$0.122

(52.5%)

District operating rate

$0.822

$0.636

29.2%

County-wide current expense**

$0.468

$0.468

---

Total operating rate

$1.29

$1.104

16.8%

Debt service

$0.188

$0.178

5.6%

Tuition

$0.172

$0.172

---

Minor capital expense

$0.028

$0.024

16.7%

Technology

$0.0145

$0.0145

---

Tax rate

$1.6925

$1.4925

13.4%

* Authorized at 2005 referendum
** Apportioned among four northern districts

component of the tax rate brought the total increase over the fiscal 2005 rate to 6. It had been projected at the time of the 2005 referendum to increase by 11 by now. Blowman attributed the lesser growth to higher-than-expected interest on invested capital funds, the favorable interest rate on state-issued bonds and retirement of some of the debt incurred by the first two phases of the building renovation and modernization program.

There was a minimal increase in the minor capital spending rate, mainly to pay the district share of the salaries of additional state-mandated reading and mathematics specialists. Although their job duties have nothing to do with minor capital spending, districts are authorized by state law to use that revenue source to pay for them.

Neither the tuition tax nor the technology tax was increased from fiscal 2007 levels.

To calculate the tax for a specific property, divide its assessment -- available in the Department of Land Use section of  the New Castle County government website -- by $100 and multiply that result by $1.6925. The tax is collected along with New Castle County property tax, which is due this year on Sept. 28, the final business day of that month.

After the board voted to authorize Scanlon to negotiate construction-management contracts for the renovation of Springer and construction of a new school building at the site of the present Lancashire, the superintendent said he expects both of those buildings to remain in use after the committee appointed "to look at our school space" makes its recommendations.

He said no school will be closed for or during the 2007-08 school year. Closing at least one building had been presented as one of the strategies to deal with voter rejection of the tax increase. Since the increase was approved, there is no need to take that action, he said.

"Eventually we'll be closing schools. Which one we don't know," he said. "By next spring we will have recommendations [about] what to do with our space."

The renovations oversight committee ranked bidders on the constructtion-management contracts on the basis of several criteria. The superintendent is to negotiate with the top ranked firms -- Whiting Turner Construction for Springer and Edis Co. for Lancashire -- with the understanding that, if agreement is not reached, he will proceed with the second-ranked firms and so on down the lists.

The anti-bullying policy defines "intentional written, electronic, verbal or physical act or actions" which constitute bullying and establishes required and optional penalties for first and subsequent offenses. The proposed policy, Cooper said, is in keeping with the requirements of a recently-enacted state law.

Most of the board discussion of changes in the conduct code centered around student use of cellular telephones. Judy Curtis, the administrator who presented the proposal, said those are "the most difficult disciplinary [provisions] to enforce." Not only are cell phones ubiquitous -- down to the elementary school level -- but also students "tend to be very creative" about their use, particularly for text messaging," she said.

Essentially, the conduct code allows 'responsible' use which is not disruptive of classroom and other school activities.

Cooper's contract was extended through through June, 2008, which, Scanlon said, brings its expiration into line with other administrative contracts. Salary and other terms were not disclosed.

After the meeting, Blowman told Delaforum that administrative salaries for the coming fiscal and academic year will not be set until after terms of a new teachers' contract are determined. Those negotiations, he said, are underway. They are not expected to be completed before the present contract expires June 30.

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Read previous Delaforum article: Brandywine seeks permit for Lancashire school

Read previous Delaforum article: Brandywine schools staff savors voters' endorsement

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