financial breathing room
Brandywine school board will most likely approve a $130.3
million preliminary budget for this fiscal year, up 9% over what
the district spent last year. The vote, expected at its monthly
business meeting on Aug. 20, will complete restoration of a more
comfortable financial footing after more than two years of
coping with tight margins.
The budget projects ending the
year next June 30 with a slightly more than $7 million
carryover, which is substantially higher than the $2.1 million
with which it began this year. The end-of-year carryover is
intended to meet payroll and other obligations during the summer
The budget carries a $123.3
million spending plan, a 5% increase over $117.4 million spent
in fiscal 2007.
Included in the $5.9 million
increase will be $1.3 million earmarked to begin implementing
the five-year strategic plan the board approved early this
calendar year. "All of the initiatives from the recent referenda
are included in the budget," its executive summary declares.
Major ones and their budgeted
amounts are: technology upgrades, $500,000; expanding Brandywine
Community School for disruptive students, $300,000; professional
development for non-certified employees, $144,000; and
extra-time instruction, $120,000.
There is a 1.8% proposed increase
in salaries and other employment costs -- the largest single
spending category -- to $98 million from $96.3 million.
The district currently is
negotiating a new contract with its teachers' union. In keeping
with past practice, there is a tight lid of secrecy on the
talks. The first information the public will receive proably
will come only after the agreement is signed and ratified in
immutable form by both union members and the school board. The
deal cut with teachers provides the basis for other employees'
salaries and benefits. Administrators' compensation for this
year, for instance, will be set, retroactively to July 1, after
the teachers' contract becomes final.
included, the executive summary said, is the promised
reduction of $600,000 in spending to be accomplished by
elimination of 16 positions -- a supervisor, a specialist, a
member of the technology staff and 13 teaching positions. That
is being done through normal attrition without anyone having
lost his or her job, according to chief financial officer David
Blowman. Everyone laid off after voters rejected a proposed
property-tax increase at the first of two referendums were
recalled after a smaller increase was approved at the second
one, he said.
The district has the option to
choose from which programs to cut about $593,000 in state
financing. Formerly referred to as a 'giveback', that line item
is now being called 'mandated state budget cuts'.
Not included in the spending plan
is $6.9 million of federal funds, which are mostly used to
finance specific programs. "There is no growth nor significant
reduction in federal money" provided to the district, Blowman
The previously approved $1.6925
property-tax rate applied to each $100 of assessed property
value will yield an estimated $56.5 million. The preliminary
budget document does not include a comparison with last year,
but using the estimate in the final fiscal 2007 budget document
indicates a 15.8% increase over $48.8 million.
The budget is to be preliminary
because the exact amount of state support will not be known
until after the official enrollment count at the end of
September. State money accounts for more than half of the
Blowman revealed at a meeting of
the district's financial advisory committee on Aug. 15 that the
district administration is looking to enroll 311 fewer students
this academic year than it did last year. That would bring total
enrollment down to 10,095.
Blowman said several factors
account for the continuing decline. They include the
demographics -- smaller families and an aging population -- of
Brandywine Hundred; additional grades in charter schools which
opened last year; excluding Brandywine High and Hanby Middle
Schools from being available to families using school-choice;
and some confusion about what the district is offering in its
The largest projected decline --
112 children -- is in kindergarten registrations. Brandywine had
planned to initiate tuition-free full-day kindergarten in
September, but the start was pushed back until September, 2008,
following defeat of the tax proposal at the first referendum.
The district will continue this year to provide some full-day
kindergarten classes for which it charges.
Among schools, P.S. du Pont
Intermediate accounts for the largest expected enrollment
decline, 151 students. That school will be housed this year in
the high-rise Burnett building while its historic building in
north Wilmington is renovated. Also, P.S. parents are entitled
under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to transfer out
because P.S. has been on 'academic watch' for five years. Hanby
has the second-largest expected decline, 106 students.
The anticipated top gainer of
students is Maple Lane Elementary, which is expected to pick up
75. That school operates on a year-around 'balanced calendar'
with classes having restarted at the beginning of August. It
also is adding a fifth grade this year. Talley Middle, which is
returning to its renovated building after a year's stay at
Burnett, is expected to have 60 more students this year than
On a year-to-year basis, the
expected enrollment decline is second only to 365 students
'lost' in 2001-02. Brandywine has 'lost' 1,350 students since
the 1998-99 school year. That trend underlies a commitment to
close one or more schools before the start of the 2008-09
academic year. As Delaforum previously reported, the process of
determining which ones will be closed is getting underway with
the formation of an advisory panel.
If the 2007-08 district estimate
proves to be correct, it will translate into 15 fewer
state-authorized and -supported positions, bringing the total
down to 638. Those include both teaching a support positions.
Enrollment also determines the
amount of state support received for other things, such as
energy costs. Blowman pointed out that the Colonial district,
which has approximately the same number of students as
Brandywine, receives about the same amount of energy allowance
although it has four fewer buildings to heat and light.
The preliminary budget calls for
the district to have a 1,441-person workforce with the
equivalent of 53 financed by local money. Blowman said that not
all of that is from tax revenue; fees and other sources provide
some of it. He agreed to comply with a request by the committee
to include a specific accounting of that financing in the final
After receiving a page-by-page
review of a draft of the 77-page preliminary budget document by
Blowman, the advisory committee unanimously approved its
submission to the board with only a few minor clarifying
additions and some editing changes.