Brandywine school board talks violent books, district audit, public participation

Published 1:20 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

NILES — In a change from most meetings this year, Monday’s Brandywine Board of Education meeting was a quiet one with no public comments at the start or end of the meeting and less than 20 people in attendance.
Board members tackled several topics during the two and a half hour meeting including the district audit, the public participation policy and violent books and materials.
The violent books and materials discussion is an offshoot of the sexually explicit materials discussion the board engaged in for several months before adopting a new policy in September. The board had suspended the purchase of both sexually explicit and violent books and materials in the spring but did not address the violent books part of the issue in September.
Superintendent Travis Walker said the board is looking at whether to put a similar policy in place that would restrict access to violent books and materials or just lift the suspension imposed in the spring. He noted that a number of books from historical accounts to children’s classics like Bambi contain violence and books and materials can contain violence but also be educational.
Board members discussed whether to use rating services such as Common Sense Media to determine age appropriateness of materials containing violent imagery or text. They are expected to vote on adding a violent materials policy or just lifting the suspension of purchasing materials with violent content at their December meeting.
The public participation policy was adopted after board members went over the policy elements they wanted included. The board will provide opportunities for public comment at the start and end of meetings and will allow people to register to speak when they come to the meeting and online up to 5 p.m. the day of the meeting. The board will still have a three minute limit on comments and people can talk a second time only after everyone else has had a chance to talk. The presiding officer of the meeting can interrupt speakers if they are abusive or threatening and can ask them to leave if they are disruptive.
With the audit, auditor Alex Schaeffer of the Kruggel Lawton accounting firm presented the audit and gave the school district a clean financial bill of health. He said the district received an unmodified opinion which is the best a public entity can get. He reported that general fund revenue ended the year at $17.167 million and expenditures at $17.977 million. He noted that the district was still spending extra one-time state and federal funds received since the pandemic.  The district’s fund balance took a $770,000 hit due to the budget shortfall but remains healthy, he said. The fund balance ended the 2022-23 year on June 30 at $3.95 million which represents nearly 22 percent of general fund expenditures. School districts are asked to maintain a fund balance of at least 15 percent of expenditures.
Board members accepted three Mindful Practices Grants for the elementary, middle and high schools of $1,000 each. They will vote on accepting additional grants from the Daughters of the American Revolution, We Need Diverse Books and Honor Credit Union at the December meeting. The We Need Diverse Books grant proved controversial over the summer when teachers applied for and obtained the grant without the board knowing about it.
Monday’s meeting also featured presentations by two law firms interested in representing the district. The board is expected to decide on whether to switch from the Thrun law firm at the December meeting. Law firm representatives talked about the services they could offer the district.
Another report came from Amanda Lezotte and Brooke Rospierski about social work and counseling services offered to students in the district. Rospierski is the district’s new social worker and works with teachers and staff to find ways to help students who may need assistance.
The board’s December meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Merritt Elementary School.