February  17,  2012

Brandywine planning
tax referendum blitz

The group charged with obtaining a favorable result at Brandywine School District's Mar. 28 tax referendum will 'reach out' to residents of Brandywine Hundred and north Wilmington in enough ways to assure they will get the message through whatever communications media is their favorite.

The committees which make up the Friends of the Brandywine Referendum are preparing strategies ranging from individually signed 'personal' letters to a mass mailing of a 'special edition' of The Brandywine Review and from scheduling events on voting day at all district schools to a dedicated Face Book page. They intend to blanket the district with 'fact sheets' and a red-white-and-blue pamphlet.

David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer, said that the additional $27 million that Governor Jack Markell is seeking in his proposed fiscal 2013 state budget to give to public school districts to replace federal stimulus money they no longer receive had already been figured into budget projection which serves as a basis for 19 of the proposed 27 tax rate increase. He said Brandywine expects to get about $2.5 million of the additional state money.

"That doesn't eliminate the need for a referendum," he said. He explained it is "a replacement and not new money." Moreover, he added, it amounts to "half of what was 'lost' in the past four or five years."

The pamphlet distributed at a Friends meeting on Feb. 15 said that, if the tax rate increase is not approved, the district "cannot sustain current levels of academic and extracurricular programming, staffing, positive classroom environments, technology support and facility maintenance." Rejection at the polls, it said, will likely mean "reductions in force, larger class sizes, delayed maintenance and upgrades to facilities and program cuts."

"While discussion at the meeting was generally upbeat -- Superintendent Mark Holodick said, "I feel pretty good about where we are." -- there were a few cautions to temper the optimism.

Eugene McCoy, a resident of the hundred long involved in civic affairs, for instance, said it will be necessary to garner 8,000 'yes' votes to overcome what he believes will be the number of 'no's.

He did not elaborate at the meeting, but told Delaforum afterwards that he based the comment on the results of voting at two referendums in 2007 scaled upward to reflect the much larger turnout he is expecting this time around.

In the first one five years ago, 9,195 voters rejected an increase in the tax to finance current operations by 52.9%-to-47.1%. Two months later a somewhat lower increase was approved 54.6%-to-45.4% by a larger turnout of 13,889 voters.

It was reported that donations to the campaign so far have totaled only $650. Combined with $1,569 left over from 2007 brings the amount in the kitty well short of the $15,000 to $20,000 the campaign is expected to cost.

The group was told that letters soliciting donations from the district's vendors were about to go out and members were asked to make similar request to any businesses where they have an in.

Assistant Superintendent Judy Curtis said such funds raising is necessary because the district is precluded from using public money to solicit favorable votes while such solicitation can be paid for with money raised by a separate Friends group.

"We're allowed to ask people to vote but we can't tell them how they should vote," she said. There is no prohibition against distribution of "factual information," she added.

"We as a group need money in order to be able to deliver these messages," Holodick said.

He said that he and other spokespersons have been favorably received at civic meetings they have attended. They have gotten across the idea that the request for a 27 increase in the ceiling on the current expenses component of the total tax rate, $1.8385, is based on "a sensible plan" and that the district "has been transparent" in formulating it.

The Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred has put out a plea for other associations to sponsor such meetings and the district is preparing an article it will request civic associations to publish in their newsletters.

Holodick noted that, so far, there has been just one short article in the daily newspaper about the Brandywine referendum. He said the district expects more coverage as the vote gets near. But he pointed out that the district cannot control the content of news articles.

Asked if he intends to seek appearances on radio talk programs, he replied that is a possibility but cautioned that "you have to be careful about what you ask for because you might get it.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Superintendent: A new tax-rate ceiling would hold for four years

CLICK HERE to access the district's referendum webpage.

2012. All rights reserved.