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April  25, 2007

Brandywine voters nix
proposed tax increase

Brandywine School District is generally expected to try again to obtain voter approval to increase the operations component of its property-tax rate for the coming fiscal year, but the scope of a second referendum was open to question in the wake of the surprise rejection of a proposed two-component 38.2 increase.

"The population of the Brandywine School District has spoken. ... The board will come together and decide what to do next," Craig Gilbert, president of the school board, told Delaforum minutes after the Department of Elections posted results of the referendum.

As a group of about 50 obviously dejected people -- mostly members of the district administrative staff who had gathered in the Brandywine High School cafeteria to witness the tabulation of votes -- was dispersing, superintendent James Scanlon assured them, "We'll put together a plan."

David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer, noted that late June is the earliest that state law

Brandywine school superintendent James Scanlon (left photo) reads results of the referendum to supporters gathered at Brandywine High School. Among those in attendence were (right photo) board members Mark Huxsoll, Craig Gilbert and Nancy Doorey.

permits another try. The board has until July 12 to set a tax rate for the levy that is due by Sept. 30.

Some 9,000 residents turned out to vote on the tax proposals on Apr. 24 and rejected them by a 53%-to-47% margin -- a ratio sufficiently wide to be regarded as decisive.

"We had expected [the result] to be close," Scanlon said.

Most observers believed, in light of Brandywine's past record of overwhelming support at tax referendums, that the proposal would carry.

Two years ago, 73% of nearly 2,000 fewer voters approved bond  financing for the third and final phase of the district's building renovation program and in 2002 an operations-tax increase garnered a 75% favorable vote.

Gilbert thanked supporters for a dedicated effort in support of the tax increase, which would have provided for an ambitious five-year strategic plan, including a tuition-free full-day kindergarten program, as well as improved building maintenance and restoration of relatively comfortable end-of-year budget balances.

However, in terms of the general economy, "things were very different this time," Gilbert said. A proposal which indicated a slightly more than 25% increase in the overall tax rate was being considered in the context of an all-but-certain 17% boost in the county government tax rate and sharp increases in the cost of gasoline and electricity. "The school tax is the only tax [on which] the people get to vote," he said.

Both Gilbert and Scanlon said any new effort to secure voter approval will follow one or perhaps two community consultation sessions.

The alternative to a successful second bid, Blowman said, will necessarily involve sharp across-the-board cuts in school programs. He previously estimated the aggregate amount of the cuts at about $4 million.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Tax cut for low-income seniors proposed

Read previous Delaforum article: Details of proposed school tax increase determined

Go to Department of Elections for referendum results

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