Superintendent: A new tax-rate
would hold for four years
If voters approve the requested increase in its authorized
property tax rate at the March referendum, Brandywine School
District will not seek another hike for at least four years,
according to Superintendent Mark Holodick.
He told a group of district employees and community residents
beginning an effort to secure a favorable vote at the March 28
referendum that the school board has made a firm commitment to
abide by a new rate ceiling "for four or five years and,
He denied that referendum strategy calls for holding a second
referendum if voters reject the increase, but stopped short of
saying that will not happen. "The board is undecided what it
will do," he said. It will make that decision, if necessary,
after analyzing initial results.
Right now, however, "we talk about when we pass the referendum
[sic], not if we pass it," he said. "We're positive but yet
The published agenda of a closed-door executive session of the
school board before its January business meeting referred to
"potential staffing cuts as it relates to the upcoming spring
operating revenue." District spokeswoman Alexis Andrianopoulos
told Delaforum that that discussion included specific positions
and qualifications of persons who hold them and therefore
qualified for exemption from the state's open-meeting law. She
did not say what, if any, decisions were made. The Brandywine
agenda was amended after the attorney general ruled that public
agencies have to be more specific than they usually have been in
the past about items to be covered in meetings from which the
public is excluded.
Holodick referred generally to "cutting personnel and programs
we would not be able to continue to support."
He said the increase of 27¢ for each $100 of assessed property
value being sought "is what we really need to be the kind of
district the community expects." There was no thought of
floating a higher amount in order to make the amount really
needed more palatable and more likely to be approved the second
time around, he said. State law allows districts to hold no more
than two tax referendums in any 12-month period.
Holodick said that after some 60 people came up with
recommendations for initiatives to be financed by the tax
increase "we worked to bring the [amount to be sought] down as
far as we could." If all the proposals were accepted, the
increase would be in the high 30¢ range, he said.
Chief financial officer David Blowman told the meeting of the
advocacy group on Jan. 25 that the district is "asking for no
more than what we absolutely need."
He explained that the 19¢ of the proposed increase that would be
earmarked for continuing current programs and rebuilding the
financial reserve is necessary because, contrary to expectation,
the district's student population is growing significantly while
its tax base is growing at an average of an anemic three-tenths
of one percent.
He said that the financial reserve "isn't really a reserve in
the usual sense [of that term]" but a carryover at the end of a
fiscal year on June 30 to meet payroll and other expenses until
tax revenue is received three to four months later. He has
proposed increasing the $3.5 million expected to be on hand at
the end of this year to $8.5 million at the end of fiscal 2015.
New Castle County government is required to bill school tax when
it bills the county tax. After the money comes in it's turned in
to the state treasury which, in turn, passes it through to the
school districts. The county is not paid an administrative fee
but is partly compensated by interest earned while accumulating
Brandywine presently has the highest tax rate in New Castle
County -- $1.8385. The others: Christina, $1.777; Red Clay,
$1.662; Appoquinimink, $1.4527; Colonial, $1.366; 'Vo-Tech',
Brandywine "is very open about what we're doing financially,"
Blowman said. "The community expects us to spend the resources
it gives us on educating the kids."
Holodick told the 27 attenders at the advocacy group meeting
that they face a challenge which they "must meet head-on."
"Times are tough, especially for those on fixed incomes or out
of work," he said, adding that the new contract with the
teachers' union now being negotiated and possibly heading for
mediation and voter apathy are also factors.
On the other hand, he said, "there is a lot of trust [of the
district] in the community [and] interest in surging ahead." All
the initiatives planned to be financed by the higher tax "are
directly connected to our success plan," he added.
The advocacy group, which will function as 'Friends of
Brandywine Referendum', is being divided into committees dealing
with such things as providing literature and lawn signs,
connecting with the media and community associations, and funds
Cyndi Lehm, its treasurer, reported that it is beginning with a
$1,570 kitty, which consists mostly of money left over from the
district's last tax referendum five years ago. Its effort is
expected to cost between $15,000 and $20,000 but a budget has
not yet been determined. It is intended, however, that the
campaign will be financed by outside donations, not with
district money. Already underway is solicitation of vendors and
Committee membership is open to anyone wishing to volunteer.