November 24,  2011

Committees assigning priorities
to tax referendum proposals

An indication of the scope of the Brandywine School District's planned tax referendum has emerged as five planning committees composed of district staff and community volunteers turn to preparing final recommendations for submission to the school board.

So far, no pricetags have been attached to an extensive list of preliminary recommendations presented to the board at a recent 'workshop'. That is scheduled to happen at a meeting of a just organized sixth committee in early December.

As previously reported, the board is expected to approve a referendum plan at its January business meeting. At that time many of the more than 100 members of the planning committees are expected to participate in a coordinated effort to secure a favorable result when district residents go to the polls on Mar. 28.

Board approval of the referendum plan is believed to be assured. At least two members of the board are actively serving on each of the planning committees and all seven members of the panel have at least one committee assignment. Joseph Brumskill is a member of all the committees.

At a joint meeting of the committees on Nov. 21 assistant superintendent Judy Curtis directed them to eliminate intercommittee duplication and assign priorities to up to five recommendations apiece. Offering fewer than that number would be all right, she added.

Chief financial officer David Blowman called for "focusing down on what the real priorities are and why those priorities are priorities."

"It's tempting to ask for everything." but, given the state of the economy, "setting a [tax] request at a level the community can support" is essential, he said.

Marty Tracy, a retired Brandywine administrator who is overall chairman of the referendum effort, agreed that the state and national economies will be factors in next year's voting, but added that he has "never seen a school referendum [held] when it's [considered] a good time."

Scheduling the referendum in March -- two months ahead of the time when school elections are usually held -- provides a window for  another try if voters reject the initial proposal before the board has to set the fiscal 2013 rate. State law limits districts to holding no more than two referendums in any 12-month period. All district residents age 18 and older are eligible to vote in a school election irrespective of whether they are registered to vote in general elections.

Brandywine voters will be asked to approve an increase in the ceiling on the current-expense component of the district's tax rate that can be imposed in any fiscal year. Usual practice in public school districts is to ratchet up to that level in annual increments. The rate now in effect in the Brandywine district -- $1.289 for each $100 of assessed property value -- has held for three years. The most recent tax referendum was five years ago.

Local financing for current expenses is the largest component of the total rate -- $1.8385 in Brandywine -- and is one of two components subject to referendum. The other is the debt-service rate which is based on referendum-approved borrowing for capital projects.

Blowman noted that whatever plan goes to referendum in March will be "supplemental to everything that we already do." He added that the disrict plans to "maintain [its] current base budget."

Summaries of the preliminary presentations have been posted on the district website. According to district officials, the final proposals will be posted for public comment during the month of December.

Proposals now on the table cover a wide range. The principal ones include:

● Increased emphasis on foreign language instruction, including its introduction at the elementary-school level, and added support for such academic offerings as the state science, technology, engineering and mathematics program -- to which Brandywine has added the arts, changing the acronym from 'stem' to 'steam' -- International Baccalaureate and advanced-placement courses.

● Expansion of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, particularly in elementary schools. Those would include sports and the arts. That would require additional pay for faculty moderators, locally-financed after-school bus transportation and support for households unable to provide such things as band instruments.

● Added opportunities for alternative instructional placement of problematic students, including expansion of the existing arrangement to children in elementary grades and provisions for effecting in-school 'suspensions'. Also recommended are 'social-skills training' for school staff and professional development for teachers and others to better address students' behavioral and emotional needs.

● Installation, maintence and updating of techology to include wireless computer access in all schools and providing an"universal instructional technology package" for teachers; four-to-five-year replacement cycles for equipment; and evaluation and implementation of 'next generation' information platforms.

● Significant expansion of building maintenance and implementation of management plans such facilities as athletic fields and security systems. The recommenation includes increasing the district's maintenance budget from what is said to be its current level of approximately 82 a square foot to up to the 'industry standard' of $2 a square foot.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Brandywine referendum timetable has been set

Go to Brandywine School District website referendum section

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