scenario for the required action at its Mar. 15 meeting will be
to seek legislation empowering it to create a visionary system
under which city schools could all be structured along the lines
of the relatively new charter-school model within a few years.
If that happens, proponents maintain, it will produce a quantum
leap in the quality of schooling the predominantly low-income
city students and attract sufficient suburban residents to
minimize racial identification -- or, some say, 'resegregation'
-- of the schools.
of the city plan -- particularly Councilmen Theopalis Gregory
and Kevin Kelley -- prefer to call the arrangement a
'consortium' rather than a new city district.
Gregory told his colleagues, meeting on Mar. 12 as a committee
of the whole, that the charter--school proposal and a series of
recommendations to implement the "educational
put forth by the Wilmington Neighborhood Schools
Committee were key to an acceptable Assembly response,
attention was focused almost exclusively on the proposed
'interim overlay' to be put in place to maintain
continuity while the new system is being implemented
over an unspecified number of years.
dealt with a revised version of the proposed plan --
labeled "Draft 7.3" -- which resurrected the
previously rejected schools committee recommendation
that the Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine districts
be merged along with the portions of the city now
assigned to the Christina and Colonial districts into a
single district. Gregory said he restored that idea
"because that's what Kevin told me he wanted."
the discussion, however, nine members of the 13-member
Council indicated they favored an alternative plan
whereby Red Clay would be assigned the section of the
city which lies south of the
Gregory (right) talks with an attender following City
Council's discussion of its proposed schools plan.
Brandywine while the Brandywine district took in everything
north of that waterway. That would require Red Clay to give up
the western portion of north Wilmington, but it would get the
east and south sides of the city from Christina along with an
enhanced tax base as a result of picking up the downtown
business district. Colonial's city section -- the largest
geographically but smallest in population -- would be split
between the two districts.
important that turf, however, is the fact redistricting would
eliminate the longest of the bus rides city youngsters now have
to take to attend suburban schools.
to his colleagues, Kelley said he and other supporters of the
so-called 'metropolitan plan' could live with what is now being
called the 'river plan'. He said he would support it in
the interest of having Council send Dover a broadly supported,
if not unanimous, recommendation. "It's better that we send
something down with 10 or 11 votes behind it, than 7-to-6,"
Bartkowski cited realpolitick as his reason for going with his
second choice. "I don't think, politically, that the
'metropolitan district' is going to be considered seriously [in
the Assembly]," he said.
Freel said he wants to send Dover "something that is
do-able" adding that he feels a 'metropolitan district' is
not while the 'river plan' "might stand a chance."
Norman Griffiths said it would be counterproductive to
"send something that doesn't have a chance." Demetrio
Ortega said he regards the 'river plan' as "the best we can
after a consensus seemed to have been reached on the floor did
Council President Theodore Blunt check in with a contrary
opinion. He noted that Wilmington is probably the only city in
the nation that is divided among four school districts and said
he favored "a single administration with a representative
[board] appointed by elected officials."
then injected the notion of reality into the discussion.
"This is really just a paper exercise. We're just step two
in a six-step process. ... The question is what the other
districts want. What we send to Dover is just a piece of
paper," he said. The Neighborhood Schools Act, which
established the Wilmington committee and give the mayor and
Council a mandate to submit an official recommendation, gives
final say to the Assembly.
General Assembly has already made up its mind. They want to
re-establish a Wilmington school district," Councilwoman
Stephanie Bolden said. She said that would be acceptable to her
provided the Assembly could be convinced to bear the cost of the
special services such a district would have to offer its urban
Manning, president of the Red Clay school board and a member of
the Wilmington committee, is the originator and primary
proponent of the charter-school approach. He previously opposed
tampering with the present four-district arrangement, proposing
instead that they be contracted by the proposed city charter
district to continue to operate their present schools and to
consider buying into the new arrangement as charter operators.
Doorey, his counterpart in Brandywine, said that she would not
want any reassignment arrangement which resulted in the kind of
upheaval and disruption that occurred when federal court ordered
racial desegregation in 1978 and the resultant New Castle County
district was split into four components in 1981.
latest draft of the city proposal set a September, 2003,
starting date for any new arrangement and expanded the charter
consortium to initially include different schools than earlier
versions. Warner and Lewis Elementary Schools would serve
kindergarten through fifth grade, with Warner also providing a
pre-school. Bayard would become the charter
sixth-through-eighth-grade middle school while P.S. du Pont
would be converted back to a high school. Along with an
alternative school at a site not suggested, they would
accommodate a total of 4,000 of the city's 11,000 school-age
no stated timetable for conversion of the other schools in the
city into charter schools. Gregory told Delaforum after the
meeting that "we would do it based on demand." He said
the equivalent of market forces would determine if the idea of
an all-charter district is viable.
charter school movement, nationally, seems to have its greatest
acceptance in urban areas with African American parents being
particularly receptive. Three elementary-level charter schools
in predominantly black northeast Wilmington already have had a
noticeable impact on conventional districts' enrollment.
Meanwhile, Charter School of Wilmington, a high school, is
widely regarded as the premier public school in the state. A
charter school is a public school financed indirectly by tax
money but governed by independent boards and exempt from some
charter-school route "is a hell of an idea," Gregory
said. "The consortium could become a district if the demand
is there. If the demand isn't there, we'll find out."
that he feels the Assembly would be willing to do along with
initiating a test on a limited basis but that he personally
believes it is not likely the legislature will accept
significant redistricting. Either proposed scheme or keeping the
status quo, he said "would be an acceptable overlay to take
care of the rest of the kids while we find out if [the
consortium idea] works," he said.
the session, he expressed much stronger ambivalence. "I'm
not a fan of charter schools, but they're here to stay. So we
might as well use it. It can be an effective tool," he