January 30, 2002

Implementation of the Neighborhood Schools Act would be delayed at least a year in order to give a new commission time to address the dilemma of how to do so without creating inferior schools under proposed legislation submitted to the General Assembly.

A bill sponsored by Senator Robert Marshall would direct the 15-member panel to recommend "the most appropriate, effective and equitable process for students to attend schools in their neighborhoods while still receiving the highest quality education."

Critics of the controversial legislation have claimed that, if all children were sent to schools closest to their homes, residential patterns in the Wilmington area would result in creation of  high-poverty schools in which children would be put at a disadvantage academically and that correcting the imbalance would necessarily be costly and likely ineffective. A high-poverty school is defined in which a majority of students qualify for federally subsidized meals.

"We have been in conversations with the senator (Marshall) on this issue for some time. ... Needless to say, we are pleased with his movement in this direction," said Tony Allen, president of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League. That organization has been an outspoken critic of the law.

Representative Wayne Smith, sponsor of the original legislation, said he opposes the bill and does not think it has much support in the House of Representatives. "I am always willing to discuss ways to ensure the law is implemented more efficiently and expeditiously.  I am unwilling to support any efforts to delay implementation, which this bill would do," he said.

Co-sponsors of the proposed legislation are Senators Margaret Rose Henry and Dallas Winslow and Representatives Arthur Scott, Dennis Williams and Hazel Plant.

The preamble to Marshall's bill in effect supports the argument made primarily by the Brandywine and Christina school districts which have submitted plans to the state Board of Education asking to be allowed to keep their present student-assignment structure. It notes that high-poverty schools would be concentrated in Wilmington and said "the latest educational research indicates that students in high-poverty schools do not perform as well as students in diverse income schools."

The preamble also claims that "implementation of the Neighborhood School plans will cost millions of dollars for the construction of additional schools and for additional operating expenses."

If enacted, the law would require the state board to report the results of its review of the plans submitted by the school districts to the new commission by Aug. 15, 2002. The commission would then have 11 months to make recommendations to the Assembly and the governor. That apparently would mean that any plan would not go into effect until the 2004-05 school year.

The state board, which received the plans in November, has no specific timetable for acting upon them under the existing law.. It has scheduled public hearings in each of  the affected districts in February and March.

In inserting another step into the review and implementation process -- which began soon after the original law was enacted in 2000 with formation of a city committee -- the proposed new legislation declares that "the potential economic and educational implications for students based on the preliminary neighborhood schools plan[s] are so significant that additional research and evaluation are necessary to avoid unintended negative consequences."

2002. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: State board receives neighborhood schools plans