July 2010

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The Brandywine school board most likely will enact a preliminary $134.5 million fiscal year budget that opens a good possibility the district might again push back the next tax referendum by a year until the spring of 2012.

Saying that another delay will be a "subject of discussion" this autumn, superintendent Mark Holodick told a meeting of the district finance committee that he's "more optimistic than I [previously] thought." Board president Debra Heffernan noted that the board already has extended its 2006 promise of no referendum for three years adding, "We now hope to go to five." The budget envisions ending the fiscal year next June 30 with a $4.4 million carryover, up from $3.4 million this year. Chief financial officer David Blowman said that, if the district were not required to pick up the full cost of administering the child nutrition program, the operating budget would be $400,000 less than last year. As it stands -- subject to revision in December -- it is up $3.4 million from fiscal 2010.

Blowman revealed at the meeting on July 22 that the district received approval of its 'Race to the Top' plan and will get an additional $5 million in federal money over the next four years. Holodick said that three of the 23 teachers laid off this summer have been rehired, but added, "We're being a little more conservative this summer than we have been in the past" about staffing schools for the coming academic year before getting a firmer handle on enrollment and state support. Blowman acknowledged that state budget cuts are likely to increase the number of classes that exceed target size but said the overages will be no more than one or two students. District enrollment is now estimated to increase by 47 children after an expected loss of 51 to the new Reach Academy for Girls charter school.


IN THE BLACK: County government got through the fiscal year which ended June 30 without having to dip into its budget reserve, according to County Executive Chris Coons. It is the first time in several years that that has happened. Meeting with officers of areawide civic associations on July 20, Coons credited "some fairly strong discipline" for balancing revenue with spending. The budget that County Council approved last year called for having to use $7 million of the $48.4 million then in the 'tax stabilization' fund, which is in addition to the 'rainy day' emergency fund. Neither Coons nor chief financial officer Ed Milowicki would provide details, explaining that further information is being withheld pending a presentation to County Council's finance committee on July 27.


SKATE PARK: County Council members at a committee meeting appeared enthusiastic about building a full-scale skateboarding facility in Glasgow Regional Park and possibly smaller ones in other parks. Then, at the request of county attorney Gregg Wilson, they took the meeting behind closed doors to talk about potential liabilities. After some 45 minutes, the meeting was reopened to the public and the committee voted -- with William Tansey dissenting -- to authorize the signing of construction contracts but with a proviso that work not begin until a further briefing about whatever it was that Wilson told them which dampened their enthusiasm. California Skate Parks, a firm said to be the national leader in the field, was successful bidder on the $768,000 subcontract.

Jon Husband, who manages parks development for the Department of Special Services, told the committee on July 20 that the skateboarding facility would be part of the third phase of building the already immensely popular park, a previously approved $2.26 million capital project. Castle Construction, a local firm, was successful bidder for the overall job. It was not clear why further Council approval was necessary. Husband said after the meeting that he had agreed to "seek a final blessing" for the project because "we never built a skate park before." He told the committee that there are more than 4,000 public skateboarding facilities in operation across the country and that they experience significantly fewer injuries than basketball courts or football and baseball fields.


CHALLENGES: Voters in northern New Castle County will have a lot to choose from in this autumn's elections. Before the November run, the final slates for several offices will be decided by party primaries in September. With the end of the filing period on July 13, here's how things shape up in the headliner contests: Republican Congressman Mike Castle must first fend off Christine O'Donnell before facing Democrat Chris Coons in the contest for U.S. Senator. Democrat John Carney will meet the winner of a four-way Republican primary among Rose Izzo, Michele Rollins, Glen Urquhart and Brent Wangen in his bid to occupy Delaware's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Attorney general Beau Biden will be unopposed for re-election.

Contrary to what has happened in the past, four of the six County Council seats opening up this year will be contested. Republican William Tansey is stepping down with Janet Kilpatrick and Michael Protack vying for his party's nomination to run against Democrat Renee Taschner. Long-serving Robert Weiner, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Michael Arnnone. Democrat incumbent Joseph Reda will meet either Scott Sauer or Douglas Suiter. William Powers, a Democrat, will face Andrea Daley. Incumbents Lisa Diller and Penrose Hollins, both Democrats, are unopposed. Both parties will have primaries to decide who will run for sheriff -- incumbent Michael Walsh versus Trinidad Navarro on the Democrat side and William Hart versus Joseph O'Leary on the Republican.

Republican Cathy Cloutier's bid to return to the state Senate will be challenged by Christopher Counihan while Democrat Harris McDowell will be unopposed for re-election. Four incumbent Democrat state representatives face Republican challenges -- Gerald Brady by Richard Carroll; Thomas Kovach by Debra Heffernan; Bryon Short by Judith Travis; and John Kowalko by Gordon Winegar. A Democrat primary in District 10 pits incumbent Dennis Williams against Kenneth Darcis with the winner to face Republican Robert Rhodunda in November. Hazel Plant faces two challengers in a Democrat primary -- Stephanie Bolden and Darius Brown. Democrat incumbent Helene Keeley has a primary battle with Robert Bovell. Neither primary winner will then have a Republican opponent. 


Brandywine school board member Cheryl Siskin urged her colleagues to be "more open" in dealing with district staff and the public. She made the remark as the board re-elected its officers for the coming year.

The board should foster "an environment where people feel comfortable coming here to talk with us," Siskin said at its meeting on June 28. "I feel more often we only hear the good stuff." Noting that the topic wasn't on the posted agenda for the meeting, president Debra Heffernan ruled that discussing it should wait until the board's annual 'retreat'. Although technically open to the public under state law, the all-day session is normally a private affair. In five-to-two votes, Heffernan and Olivia Johnson-Harris were elected to continue as president and vice president, respectively. Ralph Ackerman and Joseph Brumskill nominated and voted for each other for the positions. Heffernan and Johnson-Harris were returned as board members without opposition and the necessity of a public election.

In another matter at the meeting, assistant superintendent Judy Curtis read a summary of the 'scope of work' proposal the district submitted on June 17 to obtain federal 'Race to the Top' money, but declined after the meeting to provide a copy of her remarks. Public information officer Alexis Andrianopoulos later provided a brief summary which included: "Increase teacher and school leader effectiveness ... institute comprehensive instructional reform ... increase learning time for students ... create community-oriented schools ... [and] provide district-level support for sustaining these reforms." She told Delaforum, "Once we have approval from [the U.S. Department of Education], we will schedule a formal presentation to the board and public."


YARD WASTE: Holland Mulch Inc. has begin accepting residential yard waste free of charge at its commercial facility on Hay Road near Edgemoor Road. The temporary service will be available Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and on Saturdays until 12:30 p.m. The state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control is still "in discussions" with the Du Pont company about establishing a disposal site on property adjacent to Holland, according to William Miller, of the department's solid and hazardous waste management branch. "There are still a lot of 'ifs' that are in question, so we don't have a timetable at this point," he told Delaforum. Holland will operate the public site when it is available. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on July 23, 2010

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