May 11, 2001

Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred agreed unanimously to endorse the Brandywine School District's building renovation and modernization program and to urge district residents to authorize borrowing $38.4 million to finance it.

Failure to correct glaring deficiencies will subject children to continuation of unsafe, unhealthy and educationally obsolete conditions, Craig Gilbert, a member of the district's Financial Review Taskforce, told the council's May 10 business meeting.

"This is about the kids [and] some of the actual environments we put our children through," he said.

Using a series of Power Point slides, he showed several examples of infrastructure and other defects in the five schools slated for compete overhauls. For that to happen, voters at the May 31 referendum will have to approve selling bonds to cover the 40% local share of the cost of what will be a state-record $96 million worth of school construction in a single district over the next five years.

Gilbert noted that the Delaware Department of Education has committed the remaining $57.6 million, provided the General Assembly accepts, as expected,  its request when the state's annual capital spending authorization is enacted in June. If Brandywine voters reject their half of the deal, he said, a soft economy and competition from other school districts for state money makes it uncertain that a similar commitment can be obtained next year.

The school district also is seeking approval to finance installation of all-weather running tracks at its three high schools. The entire $948,000 capital cost of that project would be borne by district property taxpayers in a one-time outlay. The council meeting was told that teams from other schools refuse to participate in track meets at the Brandywine schools "because they don't want their runners hurt."

Although the oral resolution submitted after the presentation by Jerry Martin, the civic council's education committee chairman, put the group on record in "support of the referendums," the context of the presentation indicated, and Martin later confirmed, that the intent was to express support for the programs themselves. The resolution was passed by a voice vote with no dissent heard..

He said the council's executive committee had earlier unanimously voted the same endorsement. Brandywine Council's policy-setting executive committee meets behind closed doors and had not previously made public that stance.

Martin told civic association delegates and other attenders at the general meeting that the council's involvement in the school issue had to do with its concern for the general welfare of the area it represents. "The quality of life of the Brandywine community is certainly impacted by the quality of our schools," he said. Martin also served on the school district's Financial Review Taskforce.

Bernie Dempsey, the council's vice president, said that "people in my generation" -- that is, older residents -- have a stake in that the quality of local schools affects the market value of their properties.

A chart in literature distributed at the meeting showed incremental increases in the 'average' tax in the district totaling $95 a year by fiscal 2006 if the bonds are sold. That amount is calculated on what is said to be the average property assessment, $68,257. Gilbert said tax will decrease after reaching the peak, but neither he nor the chart take into account the district's already stated intention  to seek a higher ceiling on its operating tax rate next year nor its implied intent to schedule other buildings for renovation after the work now planned is finished but long before the 20-year bonds are paid off.

Gilbert said that members of the taskforce visited the eight schools involved in what the district describes as the second phase of a long-term program to upgrade all 18 of its school buildings. Five, including Brandywine High where the council meeting was held, were modernized in a previous round of work.

"We saw things that the average person doesn't get to see," Gilbert said, indicating that those on the tour were shocked by some of the things they saw. Several, he said, amounted to "frightening conditions." He mentioned such things as fire-alert systems not directly linked to the emergency call system, doors that cannot be locked and poor air filtration and circulation systems.

"Frankly, I wouldn't want to breathe the air that the kids have to breathe every day" in one of the schools visited, he said.

The school district proposes a complete overhaul of five schools -- Concord High, Talley Middle, Harlan Intermediate, and Forwood and Lombardy Elementary. Major but less extensive work is planned at Mount Pleasant High, Claymont Intermediate and Mount Pleasant Elementary.

Acknowledging that Mount Pleasant High was enovated during the first round, he said escalating wages in the construction industry resulted in having to cut replacement of windows from the plans for that building. Doing that work now, he said, will protect the earlier investment. Actually, the state's imposing a requirement that prevailing wages be paid on public works caused the budget shortfall.

Gilbert said that, this time out, the budgets have been drawn accurately and Victoria Gehrt, the district's interim superintendent, who attended the Brandywine Council meeting, said that an advisory committee will be established to oversee the work. "The problems that may have been there before won't be there now," she said.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read a summary of Brandywine's planned building program
Go to the Brandywine School District Web site





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