closure, sooner or later,
looms in Brandywine's future
of the result of its second attempt to obtain approval to
increase its operations tax rate, the Brandywine School District
will soon have to come to grips with a significant problem of
overcapacity, according to superintendent James Scanlon.
If the referendum vote on June 4
is unfavorable, a primary-level elementary school will be closed
before the start of the 2007-08 academic year. If it is
favorable, the matter will become a priority on the school
board's agenda with a likelihood that it will be decided in time
for the following year.
"Our problem is that we have too
much space and not enough students. ... If we don't address this
situation, we're looking at program cuts in [future] years,"
Scanlon told the board as he presented a contingency plan to cut
more than $4 million, or about 10%, from locally financed
district spending if voters again reject a tax increase.
This time around, they will be
asked to authorize an increase of 27¢ on each $100 of assessed
property value, of which 25¢ would be imposed in the coming
fiscal year and an additional penny in each of the following two
years. If applied to the current $1.4925
property tax rate, the increase when fully implemented would be
18%. It would boost the current-expense component of that
overall rate by 24.5%.
The increase would be about 35% less than
the 38.2¢ the district sought but nearly 9,200 voters rejected
by a relatively small but decisive 53%-to-47% margin at the
referendum on Apr. 24.
This time the proposal will be
presented as a single ballot question instead of two and will be
accompanied by a board pledge not to hold another tax referendum
for three years. The larger increase would have been locked in
for five years.
"I think this will be supported.
We'll know on June 4," Scanlon said after
the school board voted unanimously on Apr. 30 to set the
date for the referendum and approve the amount of the tax
increase authorization to be sought.
After considerable discussion,
the board agreed, six-to-nil,
to a resolution accepting a recommendation on both points from
Scanlon and chief financial officer David Blowman. Board member Sandra Skelly was present for the
first half of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, but left before
the vote was taken.
The board did not take formal
action on the superintendent's contingency plan, but there
appeared to be consensus agreement on it.
Closing a school would be reflected in several elements of
the plan. Its key component would be an extensive reduction in
Instead of the across-the-board
5% reduction in force which, as Delaforum previously reported, he proposed tentatively at the
board's previous workshop session, Scanlon said there will be a 10.7%
reduction in administrators, 4.1% in certified teachers and 2.3%
in support staff.
By eliminating the 10 assistants
to the principal, three coordinators and the equivalent of four
content specialists -- which are quasi-administrative roles
filed by persons drawn from the district's state allotment of teachers -- the number of classroom-teacher slots
to be cut would be held to about 17, Scanlon said. Anticipated retirements,
resignations and terminations will account for 24 positions.
Three administrators in the
district office and three in the schools, including a principal
no longer needed because of the school closure, would be
Total savings to be achieved
by staff reductions was put at $2.3 million.
In all cases, Scanlon referred to
positions, not individuals. Who will be let go will be
determined by a seniority-based "complicated bumping process,"
he said. The district is required to notify those who will
be laid off by May 15.
If voters approve the tax increase,
"we'll be on the phone immediately to invite them back," he
Before both its public meeting on
Apr. 30 and the workshop session on Apr. 27, the board went
behind closed doors for an executive session which, according to
the official posted notice was to deal with "personnel matters."
Although it is commonplace for
the public to focus on administrators when school financing is
at issue, board vice president Nancy Doorey said that 92¢ of
every dollar that Brandywine spends goes to support operation of
its schools. "I don't put any stock in accusations that we're
overstaffed," she said.
Blowman said Brandywine has one
administrator for every 20 employees, a ratio he said is not out
of line with other school districts. While he acknowledged that
Brandywine has added administrators in recent years, he said
every new position came with a favorable cost-benefit analysis.
He specified taking on an in-house lawyer in 2000 and an energy
specialist in 2005 as moves that "have saved the district
thousands of dollars" beyond what it cost to do so.
Closing a school -- either
immediately or in the near future -- was acknowledged as most likely to
produce a community outcry. That was confirmed when three of the
nine attenders who addressed the board during the public comment
portion of the Apr. 30 meeting pleaded for keeping Darley
Road Elementary -- evidently the subject of a current closure
rumor -- open.
All but two elementary schools
have been renovated during the district's building modernization
program. Brandywood and Lancashire schools are slated to be
replaced by new buildings during the just-begun final phase of that
Board president Craig Gilbert
said that as recently as two years ago, "an overwhelming 73% of
voters" at the district's capital referendum endorsed a
largely forced by public reaction, not to close either Brandywood
or Lancashire and either Hanby or Springer Middle School.
"People said overwhelmingly to keep those schools open," Gilbert
that the board at that time did agree to close the Bush Early
Learning Center and the building in Radnor Green which houses
most of the district administrative offices.
"In 2005 we said we would close
no building, but times have changed," board member Joseph
"I know it's painful, but if
we're going to maintain the integrity of the [instructional]
program, we have to commit to addressing that issue," Scanlon said.
The district has capacity to accommodate 14,000 students but
enrollment is down to 10,400 and the trend for the future is
"Small schools are wonderful for
kids, but they're expensive," he said.
Although he did not come to
Brandywine as superintendent until October, 2006, Scanlon was a
resident of Brandywine Hundred while working in
Pennsylvania in 2005 and aware of the closure controversy.
Gilbert said that determining
which school or schools should be closed will have to be "an
excruciatingly open" process involving extensive community
In his contingency plan, Scanlon also backed off from his
tentative proposal to reduce sports and extracurricular
activities by about a third. "I'm not going to hold kids
hostage," he said, adding that there is educational value
in student participation in such activities.
"It keeps them out of trouble and
focused on their school and is important to their learning," he
There will be some reductions in
that area through 5% cuts in financing extra pay that
coaches and club sponsors receive and in associated
He also changed his mind between
the workshop and the meeting about not accepting rising
seventh-graders into the middle school International
Baccalaureate program. Instead, he is now proposing to delay
extending the program to the intermediate-school level.
Scanlon said the parameters upon
which his contingency plan is based call for the district to provide full-day
tuition-free kindergarten beginning in the 2008-09 academic year,
a year later than originally planned, and implementation over
the next three years of $1 million worth of cost-containment
Scanlon said that to come up with
recommended reductions if voters reject the proposed tax
increase he and his staff acted on a belief that the cuts should
have "the least impact on students and program." Nevertheless,
he added, there will be some adverse effects -- such as a
somewhat larger average class size and dropping elective
high school courses which do not attract a minimum of 20
He said the plan was not put
together hastily following the first referendum but that its
elements have been worked on for several weeks. They were not
brought into public view prior to the first referendum lest they
be construed as threats to garner voter support, he said.
If the tax increase is turned
down, he is confident the plan "will get us through [the coming]
fiscal year." but added that it is likely that "as we go through
the year, we will be trimming [other costs] as we go along."
Blowman said that the proposed
27¢ tax increase is about the minimum necessary to enable the
district to continue to operate at reasonable levels and to
preserve its "financial integrity."
To reach that level, he said, it
will be necessary to delay implementation of some elements of
the strategic plan and significantly reduce the amount of
additional building maintenance that the originally sought
38.2¢ increase was intended to finance. Also, he said the
anticipated end-of-fiscal-year carryover to finance payroll and
other expenses during the summers probably will be adequate but
not especially comfortable.
After the rejection of the
initial proposal, "we knew we'd have to ask for less," Blowman
said. "But that will also buy less."