another matter at the session on June 4, it was disclosed that
property owners in the district can look for an increase
equivalent to 4.1¢ for each
$100 of assessed property value in the tax bills that will be
due on Sept. 30. That is about 4.4% higher than the current
issue concerning academically-gifted students had to do
primarily with accommodating an apparent increase in their
number, especially at Claymont Intermediate School which already
is said to be at or over rated capacity. Also, there was a split
in opinion among board members about whether such students who
live outside the district should be accepted under the state's
public school choice law.
Brandywine district currently has 208 fourth-, fifth- and
sixth-grade students in a largely self-contained program at
Claymont and another 146 in kindergarten through third grade at
Mount Pleasant Elementary School. The board was told that
initial screening of some 900 candidates this spring found 62
older children and 118 younger ones eligible for inclusion next
year. Sixty-six sixth-graders will be headed for middle school
and 65 will be eligible to move up from Mount Pleasant to
Claymont in September.
oversimplified, an academically gifted child is one whose
intelligence and related traits indicate an aptitude for
higher-level academic work and challengers in the younger
grades. They are roughly the same youngsters who go on to honors
classes in secondary school and take courses that are considered
selecting children the program, "we look at how a child
processes information, not what he or she has already learned,"
according to Joan England, a consultant involved with
Brandywine's selection process. "A gifted child is not one who
answers questions but who questions answers."
the initial screening, she explained, the process, which uses
seven criteria to evaluate applicants, offers a second step
involving direct evaluation of those who fall just shy of
scoring in the requisite 97th percentile on the test. About one
in seven of those so evaluated end up being found eligible, she
Brandywine has yet to do that evaluation for the coming year.
that would increase the number of acceptances even more, English
told the board there is an offsetting factor. Not all those
found eligible and invited to enter the program do so. Reasons
vary, she said, but include such things as not wanting to
transfer from private school, not wanting to make a change in
fifth or sixth grade.
members of the seven-member school board present for the meeting
deadlocked 3-2 after a long discussion on two possible courses
of action. The law requires four votes, a majority of the full
board, to take any action. Superintendent Victoria Gehrt
recommended that all initially qualified applicants be accepted
but that the followup not be done. Board president Nancy Doorey
proposed that out-of-district 'choice' students not be accepted.
further discussion, assistant superintendent Donald Fantine said
that public school districts must treat academically gifted
students in the same way they do other groups of 'special needs'
youngsters. "We have an obligation to provide an appropriate
education for these kids," he said.
said that an academically-gifted program "is not elite or
something to brag about." She said it "is based on needs the
same way that a program for the mentally handicapped is at the
other end of the scale."
member Ralph Ackerman argued that Brandywine has promoted its
academically-gifted program as a magnet to attract 'choice'
students to the district and that denying them a place in next
year's program at this point would be "ethically wrong" because
it would amount to "going back on our word." Of the qualified
students, only nine live outside the district.
the responsibility to serve the kids who live here (in the
district) first," Doorey said.
David Adkins expressed concern that accepting all qualified
students, including those found to be such in the followup,
would result in a capacity problem next year. Gehrt agreed that
promotional material and information given parents about next
year's program should include caveats about acceptance.
more discussion that got down to micro details about likely
class sizes and how many books would be needed, it was decided
that total classroom space in the district would be sufficient
if Claymont cannot handle all the qualified students who accept
invitations to participate.
told the board he is "pretty sure Claymont can hold them all" if
three unused science classrooms -- left from when the building
housed the former Claymont High School -- are adapted and one is
financial officer Michael Shockley told the board that increases
in the state's employee benefit package have bumped up the
preliminary budget presented in May somewhat but said he is
"tweaking in other places" to hold spending in line with
the biggest concern looking into future years is escalating
energy costs. He noted that Brandywine is largely dependent upon
natural gas for heating and, over the past five years, has had
to spend $3.4 million in local money for fuel. The Colonial
district, on the other hand, uses mostly oil and shuts down its
boilers over weekends and has not had to spend anything beyond
its state allocation.
[costs] really concerns me; we have to get a handle on that," he
told Delaforum that the only change he expects to recommend in
the district tax rate is the addition of 3¢ to the operating
rate to pay for the all-weather running tracks voters authorized
at the May 31 referendum and 1.1¢ as the first-year debt service
installment on the borrowing the authorized to begin planning
school renovations. That would take the total tax rate to 97¢.
On a property assessed for $75,000, the tax would be $727.50, up
from $696,75. Homeowners age 65 and older are charged half the
tax on the first $1,000.
He actually will make a
recommendation at the board's June 18 meeting. The board will
set the rate in July.