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August 23,  2011

Brandywine district will go to voters
next year for a property tax increase

Brandywine School District intends to hold a tax referendum during the first half of 2012.

Superintendent Mark Holodick gave no indication of the magnitude of the increase in the local operating expense component of the property tax rate that will be sought, but said Brandywine has reached the extent of the cost cutting it can do without adversely affecting teaching.

“We now find ourselves in a position where we most likely will have to reach out to the community,” he said at a school board meeting on Aug. 22.

He promised that the process by which the referendum is planned and managed will be “transparent and collaborate.” It will begin on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. with a public meeting in Mount Pleasant Elementary School on Duncan Road off Philadelphia Pike north of Bellefonte. From that point, Holodick said, “anything relating to the process will be posted on the [district’s] website.”

At tax referendums, voters approve or reject a proposed ceiling for the tax rate. The boards annually set an actual rate – usually in increments – until that limit is reached. The last time the ceiling was raised in Brandywine was for fiscal year 2008. At that time the board said it expected to hold to the ceiling for three years. It has actually done so for five.

If approved, the new ceiling, along with an initial rate, will go into effect in fiscal 2013. Taxes for that year will be due at the end of September, 2012.

Every resident age 18 and older is eligible to vote in a school tax referendum whether or not they are registered to vote in political elections.

The local operating expense component of the current Brandywine rate is 82.1¢ for every $100 of assessed property value. In addition, district taxpayers are charged 46.8¢ per $100 countywide rate which has been fixed by state law since the New Castle County district was split into four districts in 1981. The operating expense component is 70% of Brandywine’s $1.8385 per $100 total tax rate.

With chief financial officer David Blowman not present at the meeting, the board tabled for a month a proposed preliminary operating budget for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1. Copies of the proposal, however, were made available at the meeting.

Anticipated locally financed spending in the proposed budget was

given as $42.7 million, down four-tenths of one percent from $42.9 million actually spent last year. The total proposed budget, which includes state and federal support, is $143.1 million, an increase of $5 million over the fiscal 2011 budget. More than 80% of the increase is the result of the state decision to finance a 27th pay period and increase the mandated pension rate. The budget document does not contain a comparison with what actually was spent in fiscal 2011.

If the proposed local spending budget holds, Brandywine will operate barely in the black – by just $20,000 – this fiscal year.

Holodick told the meeting – attended mostly by district employees – that the district has “made every effort to control and reduce costs” without jeopardizing the level of classroom instruction during recent years. The main ‘savings’, he noted, resulted from the closing of Hanby Middle and Darley Road Elementary Schools. Also, he added, that, despite an increase in enrollment, the district has reduced the number of its employees.

The budget document shows a projected enrollment for the coming academic year of 10,725, up from 10,657 last year. That would be the highest number of students since 2000, slightly topping the previous high, set in the 2004-05 academic year. Despite predictions that Brandywine would lose students because of an aging population in Brandywine Hundred and the portion of north Wilmington that it covers, the actual number has hovered in the 10,650-to-10,700 range.

Again this year Brandywine expects to have a significant favorable balance in the number of students gained and lost through the state’s school choice program. The margin this year is pegged at 407, which results in Brandywine’s receiving nearly $1.2 million in tuition payments from other districts. However, it expects to have to pay nearly $2.8 million to charter schools which an expected 690 children who live in Brandywine attend.

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