April School District Happenings: New Castle County Edition

Filed in Education by on April 5, 2016

Christina School District

The oft unnoticed school board elections are happening in every New Castle County school district May 10th. In only one of the districts is an actual contest taking place. 5 of the 7 seats up for election across the county have candidates running unopposed, which too often is the case in BOE elections. Christina School District serves as the exception as both incumbents have challengers:

Nominating District F incumbent Elizabeth Paige is challenged by Desiree Brady

Nominating District B incumbent David Resler is challenged by Margaret Mason

TONIGHT: 6:30pm at Jennie E. Smith Elementary School will be the first forum for the Christina Board of Education candidates seeking to fill the two seats.  There will be at least 1 other forum for the public to question the 4 candidates about Christina’s future and their part in it as Board of Education members.

Brandywine School District

As anticipated, Brandywine School District will be returning to the public sometime in late May to win approval for capital and operating referenda. Last evening their Board voted to go back out in May and this time there will be no turf involved. You may remember the grief caused by  artificial turf as part of a 3-piece referendum package. I’ll stop just short of saying the turf killed their shot at the referendum, but the District did itself no favors by tying all 3 referenda into one single vote. Let’s see what their Board opts to do this time; tie both capital and operating into 1 vote or permit an individual vote for each referendum.

Quick refresh about major capital improvements for school districts. Funds are raised through the Debt Service Tax, 1 of 4 components of Delaware public school taxes. Funding major capital projects is achieved when State and District enter into a bond agreement in which the local District must ante-up 40% of the payback funds required to complete the project(s) (collected via debt service tax rate adjustments) prior to the State funding the remaining 60%. The 40% part is what Brandywine is asking its residents to approve.

Brandywine is looking to renovate 3 schools and demolish a disused building. I would say by looking at the information provided, the renovations are warranted.

I’m sure we’ll see an updated brochure for the May vote but in the meantime, this one still serves relatively well, aside from the now-errant average increase figures and Turf-related language.

“A capital referendum is necessary to continue the very important renovations we have already accomplished, to bring buildings up to safety and accessibility standards, and to ensure that our facilities in BSD continue to be state-of-the-art and provide world class educational opportunities for all students.”

Of note for the current capital referendum, there is no risk of increased debt service tax rates to residents due entirely to the fact that BSD has bonds that will be retired (paid off) by the time tax bills go out in July/August. Therefore maintaining the Debt Service Tax rate at its current level, which still requires a vote to approve, will bring in the needed 40% (to the tune of $19.3 million) to begin the major capital projects and prompt the state to pony up the remaining $27.3 million. Bond life-cycles can vary, but they usually carry on for several years (sometimes a decade or two).

BSD’s operating referendum asks residents to approve a rate increase $0.28 per $100 assessed value to continue existing levels of services to its students. Services such as STEM and music programs, after-school and extracurricular programs, and full-time gifted and talented programs. Funds will also cover inflationary cost increases (salaries & benefits, energy, fuel, utilities, etc). Average assessed property value in BSD is $73,600, and with a $0.28 increase in the operating tax rate, the average increase would be about $200 per year, or ~$17 a month, or ~$4 a week.

According to the information available on the District’s website and the minutes and reports from their District Finance Committee, there are no shiny, new, bombastic proposals here. This operating referendum is to keep things a-going the way they are now. Through the end of the fiscal year (June 30) BSD is running on a $2 million deficit which will grow as they enter the next fiscal and school year without an adjustment to operating tax rate or significant budget cuts.

An $8 million reduction to the Brandywine budget would likely mean that between 35 and 50 teachers would be cut, which is about a 6 to 8 percent decrease in the teaching force.

Teachers’ aides, administrators, nurses, counselors, janitors – any of the district’s employees could end up on the chopping block, Holodick said, adding that extracurricular programs and athletics are on the table, too.

May 17th has tentatively been floated as the date for the referendum. Dangerously close to the deadline for District notification to existing teaching staff of their job status for next school year. As Christina did last year, I’d expect BSD to send layoff notices to a number of teachers closer to the higher end of the estimate above in advance of the vote. Assuming a passed referendum, re-hiring will take place in September-October as the official ‘unit count’ is completed.

Available information shows a ~$5million balance going into June with a $2 million deficit. I don’t know what Brandywine’s total annualized payroll and operational costs are, but I’m certain they are higher than $3 million.

Their Finance Committee has requested the District prepare a report detailing $8 million in potential reductions. Much like Christina’s $9 million cut this year, it will be a very painful process to create, explain and defend those cuts.

If anyone gets their eyes/hands on that document, I’m interested in seeing it.

I don’t doubt BSD needs the operating revenue, though. All school districts are subjected to this ridiculous process every 3-5 years, just to keep things going. Eyes remain fixed upon Dover to remedy an ailing education funding system.

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About the Author ()

A dad, husband, and public education supporter. Small tent progressive/liberal. Christina School District Citizen's Budget Oversight Committee member, who knows a bit about a lot when it comes to the convoluted mess that is education funding in the State of Delaware.

Comments (4)

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  1. Harrie Ellen Minnehan says:

    in Christina there will be at least another half dozen forum opportunities to meet the candidates. I believe the dates are 4/28, 5/2, 5/3, 5/4, 5/5, with two forums being held on 5/3 and 5/4. I do not know locations yet but the one on 4/28 is sponsored by the Friends of Christina School District, and one will be a CEA interview. More to follow, of course!

  2. Alex says:

    Teacher friend at BSD says that layoff notices will go out May 15, two days before the referendum. It’ll be an across the board cut for all teachers of about 5-8%. They seem to be making a much more aggressive push already with getting it to pass. I’d say the turf fields were what killed it. Many people, even those who voted for it were against the fields.

  3. Jackie Kook says:

    I’d be interested to know more about the Christina candidate forums. I’ve only seen about 3 listed anywhere, and as any union leader should know interviews for union endorsements are never ever ever public forums. That should absolutely not be even mentioned as an event.

  4. Christy says:

    You can find a list of board candidate forum opportunities here: http://csdpavingtheway.com/2016/04/08/csd-board-candidate-forums/

    I do hope that Brandywine’s referendum passes this time around. It’s painful to see schools suffer with this funding process.