will be on the
Brandywine referendum ballot
School District residents will have an opportunity to weigh in
on a couple of issues when they go to the polls at the Apr. 24
While formally authorizing the
referendum at a recent meeting, the school board decided to
split the ballot and present two questions to the voters. They
will be asked to decide separately on a request to pay for a
significantly higher level of spending for building maintenance.
Meeting other operating-cost increases, financing the new
five-year strategic plan and "restoring the financial health of
the district" will be lumped into the other tax-increase
authorization being sought.
As previously reported, a
favorable vote on both questions will result in an increase of
38.2¢ for each $100 of assessed property value in the ceiling on
the local portion of the tax rate to finance general operating
costs. The board agreed to impose 36.2¢ of the increase in the
coming fiscal year and go to the full amount in each of the four
subsequent fiscal years. According to the Department of
Elections for New Castle County, the actual wording of the
ballot questions, including how the rate-increase authorization
would be apportioned, has not yet been determined.
Voter approval of the component
of the overall increase earmarked for the strategic plan
apparently will be considered as fulfilling the approval process
required by state law to implement a tax-financed full-day
kindergarten program. An item posted on the district's website
said the program will begin at the start of the 2007-08 academic
year "if the referendum is passed [sic]."
The local portion of Brandywine's
operating tax rate currently is 51.4¢, the ceiling authorized at
referendum in 2002. The total tax rate is $1.4925. The tax on a
residential property assessed for $68,700 -- which the district
said is the average assessment -- is now $1,025. A 38.2¢ rate
increase would take that to $1,288.
That figure, however, is an
approximation because the total rate contains several
components. In Brandywine, a temporary tax to finance
improvements to athletic fields and playgrounds is scheduled to
be reduced in the coming year while the tax to finance debt
service on bonds sold to finance school renovations will likely
rise. The school board will set the actual rate when it approves
a tentative fiscal 2008 budget in late June.
citizens pay half of the first $1,000 of their tax bill
under a state-financed arrangement. The board asked
superintendent James Scanlon to look into the possibility of the
district providing some additional tax relief for seniors with
Scanlon told the board at its
meeting on Mar. 12 that the two-cents lower tax rate for all
property owners in the coming fiscal year will be possible
because the number of proposed new locally-financed positions
has been reduced from 12 to three. "Reallocating" present job
slots will provide for academic deans in each of the three high
schools and six "instructional support" people. Still needed, he
said, will be three social workers to supplement the present
He also said that planned closure
of the district headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Radnor
Green will be advanced to the coming fiscal year, resulting in
saving at least $77,000 a year in energy and other operating
costs. He did not give any details about where the offices will
be relocated. At the time of the capital referendum in 2005, it
was said that most of the administrative offices would move to
the Mount Pleasant Elementary School building near Bellefonte.
The high-rise Burnett building in north Wilmington also was
mentioned as a potential venue for some.
Chief financial officer David
Blowman told the board that the referendum proposal he prepared,
the district's financial advisory committee endorsed and the
board essentially approved was based on several "balanced
assumptions." The key ones were that there would be 4% annual
growth in salaries, employee benefits and operating costs,
including energy, during the next five years. The board has
indicated it will not hold another tax referendum during that
He said restoration of the
district's annual carryover balances "is absolutely essential,"
but added that, even if it is forthcoming, "we will have to
continue to focus very hard on cost containment." Not going
beyond raising sufficient revenue to meet needs is important, he
said, because "there's a limit on what we can request of our
Board vice president Nancy Doorey
drew upon the precedent set in 2005 by seeking and obtaining
voter authorization of a temporary tax to finance the $1 million
upgrade of athletic facilities and playgrounds in moving for
separate consideration this time of the building-maintenance
component of the strategic plan. She described that part of the
overall tax increase as "protecting our investment" in the
renovated school buildings.
Brandywine is currently spending
the equivalent of 65¢ a square foot to maintain its buildings,
Scanlon said. The strategic plan calls for Brandywine to up its
spending to $1.85 per square foot.
"That's pretty darn
dramatic," Doorey said, adding that the district "owes it to our
community" to seek separate approval for an increase of that
magnitude. In addition, doing so "will raise public awareness
about the issue."
She laid the problem squarely in
the lap of state government, saying that matching funds for
minor capital expenditures have lagged significantly. The state
is now paying 42% of the cost, down from 58% five years ago. If
Brandywine's strategic plan holds and the state formula remains
unchanged, the subsidy will be 15%, she said.
Blowman said that the dollar
amount of the state's support, with no adjustment for inflation,
is 12% lower than what it was in 2001. "Maintenance costs
certainly have not declined by 12%," he said.
Doorey's proposal drew strong
opposition from board member Joseph Brumskill, who said breaking
up a single proposal "is a sure way to open a can of worms." He
said two ballot questions with different pricetags run the risk
of being misinterpreted by average voters as a choice between
alternatives. He said it also provides "the naysayers [with] an
opportunity to say we're asking too much" with the overall
Although Brumskill said his
"concern is that we get this [approved] as a package," he
technically voted against holding a referendum when he ended up
on the short side of a six-to-one vote approving an enabling
resolution which provided for presenting separate questions.
On the other hand, board members
seemed to agree that the district holds a trump card in
presenting full-day kindergarten as a significant element of the
Brandywine has offered
tuition-supported full-day sessions as an option since 2002.
Currently, 62% of 635 kindergarten children are enrolled with
every elementary school participating. Participation has
increased from 39% in the 2004-05 academic year, according to
district spokesman Robert Ziegler. The tuition is $3,600 a year,
with partial or total assistance provided to low-income
According to the current issue of
Brandywine Review, the district's periodical, there would be no
tuition charged to participate in the state-supported program. A
half-day option would be available in some schools.