The Brandywine School District referendum asking residents for a nearly 15 percent property tax increase Wednesday squeaked by with 4,624 residents voting yes and 4,013 voting no.

The Brandywine School District referendum asking residents for a nearly 15 percent property tax increase Wednesday squeaked by with 4,624 residents voting yes and 4,013 voting no.

The unofficial results were posted online by the Delaware Department of Elections for New Castle County. They are still subject to approval by the Board of Elections for New Castle County.

Brandywine can now move forward with its plan to raise the tax rate 27 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That represents an average increase of $188 per year based on the average assessed property value of $69,703, calculated in the early 1980s.

Residents paid $1.8385 per $100 of assessed property value this year, Brandywine Chief Financial Officer David J. Blowman said. The 27 cents will all go toward the bulk of the tax rate known as the current expense, which is the local tax money raised to pay for operating expenses.

The amount of the increase, which totals $9 million, was calculated after careful consideration within the Brandywine Referendum Committee, Blowman said.

“We got it as low as we possibly could while still making it worthwhile to go out [for referendum],” he said. “The economic environment played heavily into keeping the amount as low as possible."

Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick thanked the referendum committee composed of volunteers as well as staff assembled at Brandywine High School Wednesday night to monitor results as they came in.

Brandywine's last operating referendum in 2007 was expected to last three years, but the district stretched that out to five years, Holodick said. He pledged to make this referendum last at least four years, if not more.

“I think the passing of this referendum clearly shows the community supports its public schools here in Brandywine,” he said. “With that said, we recognize it is a very difficult economy.

“We knew we had to conduct a referendum that was collaborative and transparent,” Holodick said.

Among the residents voting yes were Len DeCapua, of Perth.

“I voted because my grandkids are starting school and I want to make sure they have a quality education,” he said. “And we haven’t had a referendum in a while. We’ve got to support it.”

Gifford Scarborough, of Fair Woods, said he voted yes as well because a strong local school district would ensure strong property values.

“When you go to sell your house the first thing people are going to look at is, what’s the school district,” he said. “And the closer you are to selling your house to go into the nursing home, the more concerned you should be about it.”

Among those voting no, however, were Gordon and Joan Thayer, of Devonstock.

“Our kids went to this school [Brandywine High] many years ago, but … our homes have been devalued by 30 percent because of the economy and the bubble in the banking world,” Joan Thayer said. “Given the economic climate, we just can’t afford to be asked to pay more at this time.”

Brandywine’s successful referendum will allow the district to build up its cash reserve – the so-called carryover fund by which the state measures school districts’ fiscal health, Blowman said. Of the $9 million to be raised, 19 cents or $6.4 million will restore depleted reserves and maintain existing operations and educational programs, he said.

The rest of the money includes paying for programs whose grants were set to expire. The referendum committee felt they were too effective to eliminate, Blowman said.

As for building up reserves, Blowman said it had nothing to do with that cash being depleted by raises for teachers and administrators. Brandywine teachers did not have a locally funded raise last year or this year thanks to the contract just agreed to Monday. They will, however, receive 2 percent raises on the local side for 2013 and 2014, he said.

As for administrators, they lost 1 percent in 2010 because of state cutbacks, and then got that 1 percent back in 2011, Blowman said. This year, their salary was up 1.2 percent. He did not know what the future held for administrator raises for the next two years.

What truly hurt Brandywine was the loss of certain state funds worth $5 million to $6 million as state revenues began to tank four or five years ago, Blowman said. And the district had grown by 600 students in the last five years to 10,801, with many of them coming from parochial and private schools or from families drawn to full-day kindergarten. That has put tremendous pressure on the district’s resources, Blowman said.

While the state essentially guarantees the majority of students’ funding based on enrollment, the tax base has shown little growth, he said. Hence, the district needed this referendum.

This referendum will get Brandywine to a cash reserve worth 5 percent of the total budget, worth $145.3 million for the 2012 fiscal year.

5-year history of Brandywine School District tax rate
Fiscal Year           2008      2009       2010      2011     2012
Current Expense $1.29    $1.286    $1.289  $1.289  $1.289
Debt Service        $0.188   $0.228   $0.228  $0.228  $0.2500
Tuition tax            $0.172   $0.222   $0.262  $0.262  $0.262
Minor cap tax      $0.028    $0.028   $0.028  $0.023  $0.023
Technology tax   $0.0145  $0.0145 $0.0145 $0.0145 $0.0145
Total tax rate       $1.6925  $1.7785 $1.8215  $.8165   $1.8385

Tax rate is applied to every $100 of assessed property value.