unsigned proposal circulating among political and educational
leaders refers to the arrangement as a 'consortium' rather than
a new or separate district. But it closely resembles the
district structure envisioned by the Wilmington Neighborhood
Schools Committee in one of its two recommendations.
is expected to decide at its meeting on Mar. 8 on a plan to
submit to the Assembly. It will hold a public hearing on the
issue on Feb. 28.
difference is that the draft proposal calls for starting with
four charter schools -- one at each of the traditional grade
levels and an undefined 'alternative' school -- while the
Brandywine, Christina, Colonial, Red Clay and New Castle County
Vocational-Technical districts continue indefinitely to function
within the city. It implies that those districts would be
expected to eventually cede their city schools to the
consortium, but does not establish a timetable for their doing
proposal does, however, identify three schools that would be
transferred initially -- P.S. du Pont and Burnett in the
Brandywine district and Lewis in Red Clay. P.S. would be
converted back to a high school and Burnett, which is now
closed, would again become a middle or junior high school. Lewis
would remain an elementary school. The proposal defines their
new status as 'charter academies', but does not say who would
rated capacities, the traditional schools could accommodate
about 2,300 students. There are about 11,000 public school
students living in the city, but a direct comparison is not
applicable because suburban children would be permitted to --
and, indeed, expected to -- enroll. The 'alternative' school is
listed as having a 200-student capacity. Existing alternative
schools are for children who, for disciplinary and other
reasons, do not function in a traditional classroom.
significant change the Assembly would be requested to make would
be to provide for the state to pick up the entire cost of
renovating school buildings for their new roles. Present law
specifically bars public financing of capital costs related to
conversion of an existing school or constructing a new charter
school. The state finances 60% of major capital costs for
conventional public schools and there is legislation pending in
Dover to increase that to 80%.
also is provision for recommending establishment and financing
of a statewide special education advocacy office with branches
in each county in addition to the city. Twenty-one percent of
Wilmington students are in various special education categories,
compared to 11% statewide.
proposal is adopted, it would put Council and the mayor on
record as endorsing the schools committee's more esoteric recommendations
that public policy recognize differences in the needs of urban
children and incorporate measures designed to educate them on a
par with children from more affluent households.
also would strongly second the committee's questioning of the
constitutionality of the Neighborhood Schools Act and, by
implication, whether it was a deliberate effort to isolate
Wilmington schools and illegally resegregate them.
proposal is labeled as a 'working document' and, Delaforum has
learned, is still being tweaked in an effort to produce a
unanimous or near-unanimous vote in Council. Councilman
Theopalis Gregory is said to be the prime mover in that effort.
He did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
there are strong indications the language in the proposal seeks
to assure school officials and, more to the point, legislators
outside the city of a cooperative attitude, it strongly
addresses what several members of the schools committee
identified as basic principles.
it puts forth "creates a structure designed to minimize the
risks currently faced by Wilmington's children and maximizes
opportunities for [those] children to achieve academic
success," it states.
on to say that the plan which is adopted "must provide
opportunities for Wilmington's students to attend quality
neighborhood schools from [kindergarten through 12th grade]
within the city of Wilmington ... [and] must endow Wilmington's
parents and community with meaningful control over the entity
[and] process that govern neighborhood schools."
Neighborhood Schools Act requires Wilmington to submit its
proposal to the Assembly by the middle of March and for the
Assembly to take whatever legislative action is required to
implement it, with or without changes, by the end of the session
in June. The four conventional school districts that were
covered by the 1970s desegregation decree of federal court have
until November to submit neighborhood school plans to the state
Department of Education.
Wilmington is allowed to establish a charter-school consortium
and move toward a district comprised of charter schools, it
would be a pioneer nationally in that regard. The burgeoning
charter school movement is directed almost entirely to overlay
conventional public school districts. There are a few charter
districts, mostly in rural areas, in California and Georgia.
school is a public school in that it is financed through
tax-supported tuition from districts in which its students
reside. Without having to abide by many of the administrative
and structural regulations and requirements imposed on
conventional public schools, charters are able to function much
like private schools.
proposal takes note of the resultant competitive factor by a
provision that would allow the conventional districts, if they
desire or agree to respond to a consortium request, to operate
one or more schools within the city as charter schools. That is
an unusual, if not unique, arrangement. Both profit-making and
nonprofit organizations operate charter schools. Delaforum is
aware that a major corporation in the city is looking into the
possibility of establishing a separate nonprofit entity to do
districts would be required to transfer ownership of their
schools within the city to the consortium, which would have to
give a year's notice of a desire to acquire a building. The
dist5ricts would not be paid for the buildings but the state
would assume any debt attached to it.
charter schools would be exempt from having to become a part of
the consortium, although nothing would prevent their seeking to
do so. Charter School of Wilmington, which is located in the
former Wilmington High School building, is chartered by the Red
Clay district. There are three state-chartered elementary
schools in the East Side.
consortium would be governed by a seven-member board of
managers. Four would be appointed by the mayor; two by City Council
and one by the New Castle County executive. Unlike a school
district, the consortium would have no taxing power. Its money
would come from tuitions which accompany students and
"through traditional nonprofit methods" for raising
funds from corporations, foundations and the like.
would be accepted by the city charter schools through
application. Enrollment would be open to anyone, regardless or
residence, but prospective students living in the city would
the five districts continue to operate within the city would
avoid the major disruption of a wholesale reassignment of city
children to a new educational entity, the proposal notes. It
does concede that the districts most likely will come up with
plans for assigning students to schools closest to their homes,
as the state law provides.
proposal, however, calls upon the districts to implement the
neighborhood schools committee's priority recommendations for
'education enhancement'. It also advocates establishment of
local or neighborhood school councils, which would have at least
quasiofficial status in dealing with the affairs of individual