December 12,  2011

Brandywine Referendum panels
propose several new programs

Committees planning the Brandywine School District's tax referendum have submitted proposals for new or expanded programs they estimate would cost in the neighborhood of $5 million in each of the next three years.

That is a 'ballpark' calculation because the five committees did not use a common format in their reports.

According to a timetable posted earlier on the district's website, a sixth committee -- referred to as the resource and planning committee -- is to review the recommendations in time for them to be submitted in final form to Marty Tracy, chairman of the referendum effort, by Dec. 22. He and district officials are to present a "cohesive referendum plan" to the school board for approval at its Jan. 23 business meeting.

The referendum is scheduled for Mar. 28.

The new tax ceiling to be requested from voters presumably will include room to include normal year-to-year increases in spending on current operations as well as whatever proposed innovations survive the final review process. The current expense component of the Brandywine property tax is $1.289 for each $100 of assessed property value. The total rate is $1.8385.

There has been no public indication of how long the increased ceiling would be expected to hold. The present one has been in effect for five fiscal years. Cost estimates provided in the committee reports, however, referred to the next three years. All presumed the innovations would begin to be implemented in fiscal 2013, which begins next July 1.

The largest pricetag -- just under $4 million, spread over three years -- was submitted by the academic opportunity committee.

Of that, $2.4 million would go to introducing "foreign language exposure" in all of the district's kindergarten-through-fifth-grade elementary schools. Students would receive that instruction once a week. Eleven specialist teachers would be hired. The report did not specify which language or languages would be taught.

The committee also offered three scaled-down options. One would provide such instruction during just a third of the academic year, reducing the number of specialist teachers required to four. The other two would use after-school clubs managed by two staff members receiving extra-duty compensation. Although not stated, student participation in the clubs presumably would be voluntary.

Also recommended by the committee would be summer school programs for students needing remedial help in third, fifth, sixth and eighth grades. In a different context, superintendent Mark Holodick previously said he would like to see all students reading below grade level assigned to a summer program.

The facilities committee recommended increasing the district's building maintenance budget by $1.65 million a year with all the district's buildings placed on a three-year maintenance cycle. "Following the first two three-year cycles, the district should be able to maintain a true preventative maintenance schedule where we are working on systems before they fail," its report said.

The committee offered a $1 million alternative which would involve a four-to-five year rotating maintenance schedule.

The technology committee called for a $1.1 million-a-year upgrade over the next three years. About two-thirds of that would go to install a classroom instructional technology program in every classroom and provide teachers with professional-development training to use it. It also proposed providing "ubiquitous wireless access" for computers in every school.

A relatively modest $300,000-a-year expansion of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities was proposed by that committee. The largest expenses would be in extra-duty pay for staff members and providing additional bus transportation for students who participate. Most of the additional effort would be directed toward elementary schools where sports and arts clubs would be offered three days a week. Additional after-school clubs would be established in the middle and high schools.

The learning environment committee recommended spending $400,000 a year to provide, on a contract basis, a behavior interventionist specialist in the elementary schools; $95,000 to expand the 'peer court' arrangement in secondary schools which has been financed for the past three and a half years by the Criminal Justice Commission. $90,000 to institute a mentoring program for students entering sixth or ninth grade; and $25,000 for professional development.

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Read previous Delaforum article: Committees assigning priorities to tax referendum proposals

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