April  22,  2008

Expected state budget cuts
would hit Brandywine hard

Upwards of 100 Brandywine School District teachers and other employees would be laid off and plans to implement a full-day kindergarten program for the coming academic year might be put on hold if the 8% reduction in state financing that is being talked about becomes reality.

"We'll have to have a very terrifically strong campaign to make sure that doesn't happen," school board president Joseph Brumskill said. At the board meeting on Apr. 21, he called for parents and other district residents to inundate their state senators and representatives with pleas to exempt public education from drastic cuts expected to be proposed by Governor Ruth Ann Minner and the State Budget Office.

As Delaforum first reported it would, the Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council earlier in the day again lowered its estimate of state revenue during the coming fiscal year. It is now saying that state government will take in $3.31 billion during the fiscal year which begins on July 1. That would be up from $3.23 billion now expected for the current year, but well below Minner's $3.41 billion request. The General Assembly is limited by law from spending more than 98% of the council's revenue projection.

An  8% reduction in state revenue would 'cost' Brandywine just shy of $6 million. Superintendent Jim Scanlon told the board that the district also would have to spend an additional $1.2 million beyond the $600,000 it anticipates spending to implement the kindergarten program if the state backs off from helping to finance expanded kindergarten programs statewide. That is one of the options now being considered in Dover.

There is no way Brandywine can absorb a $6 million-to-$7.2 million gap in its budget without being forced to take drastic measures, financial officer David Blowman said. "If you [think] we can [cost-]cut our way out of this without touching people, it's not going to work," he said.

Scanlon noted that when voters failed to approve a tax increase at the first of two referendums last spring and the district was faced with the possibility of a $2 million budget shortfall, it sent layoff notices to 42 employees. Those layoffs never came about after voters approved a tax increase at the second referendum.

Brandywine now faces the prospect of having to notify a significantly larger portion of its workforce of the possibility they will be laid off. It is required to issue such notices by May 15 to any employee for whom it does not expect to have a job next year. The state advisory council probably will not meet before then to update its forecast and is not scheduled to produce the final estimate that will bind the Assembly before mid-June.

Scanlon also noted that during the last state budget crisis five years ago, all school districts were asked to 'give back' a portion of their state financing. Brandywine's share of the total public school reversion was $592,000, about a tenth of what might be expected this time around.

Reversions have since become a permanent part of the annual budget-setting process. Districts are permitted to choose from which categories of state financing they want to make them so long as their quota is met.

Scanlon emphasized that no kindergarten decision has yet been reached. "We haven't given up on full-day k[indergarten], [but] I'm becoming a little bit less optimistic if the state is not going to put up its share."

Blowman said it does not appear likely that the nearly completed renovation of P.S. du Pont Intermediate nor the planed renovation of Springer Middle and building a new Lancashire Elementary will be affected by the budget situation although state officials are talking about delaying or stretching out capital spending. The status of the planned replacement of Brandywine Elementary is uncertain, he said.

Scanlon said he and other superintendents from around the state met with the State Budget Office, but gave no details about the outcome of the session.

Blowman pointed out that public schools are not the only ones impacted by the situation. Every state agency has been instructed to identify where in their budgets they can make cuts totaling 8%, he said.

Nevertheless, Brumskill said an intense lobbying campaign must be undertaken "to get [across] to state legislators that education cannot be touched."

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Read previous Delaforum article: Scanlon sounds budget alarm

Read previous Delaforum article: State fiscal outlook darkens

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