Although reticent to be specific
about timing until the administration and school board have had
a chance to digest results of the failed referendum, both
Robert Andrzejewski and William Manning, president of the
board, told reporters soon after the votes were counted on Apr.
10 that again presenting essentially the same plan to residents
is a sooner-or-later certainty.
"The need doesn't go
away," Manning said, adding that he has never known a school
building proposal to gain acceptance the first time it was
submitted to a vote.
Red Clay's was turned
down by 53% of the 11,803 people who went to the polls. That was
about an 11% turnout of adult residents of the district. The
vote was 6,271 opposed to 5,532 in favor.
Had the bond issue
been authorized, the way would have been cleared for Red Clay to
move ahead on a multi-year $185.2 million program to upgrade
infrastructure, modernize and replace obsolescent features,
including athletic facilities, at all 23 existing school
buildings and to build 600-student elementary schools in Stanton
and near Hockessin. That would have been by far the most
extensive school building program ever undertaken in Delaware.
The state matches the local contribution on a 60-for-40 basis.
"The plan we presented
was one that made sense. I still think it makes sense," Manning
said. While admittedly ambitious, it was scaled down, with
guidance from outside professional experts, from what would have
been desirable to what is necessary, he said.
District officials had
said the various projects are needed not only to bring the
buildings up to the snuff to meet technology and other
requirements for current teaching practices but also to provide
capacity to fulfill the long-range plan to do away with
traditional public school attendance patterns and allow parents
free choice of which schools their children will attend.
"Obviously we are
disappointed" by the outcome of the referendum, Andrzejewski
said. "The most disappointing thing about it is that the kids
are the ones who lose out in the long run."
As workers from the
state Department of Elections for New Castle County tabulated
the votes, evidence of widespread division among residents of
the district emerged. Margins ranged down from 70 percent
approval by those who turned out to vote at Brandywine
Springs Elementary School in Mill Creek Hundred to 14½%
at Baltz Elementary in Elsmere. The polling place at Latin
American Community Center in the near west side of Wilmington
produced the largest proportion of favorable votes, but only 43
people used the machine there.
at H.B. du Pont Middle School and the Chinese-American Community
Center in the vicinity of where one of the new elementary
schools was to be built were supportive, but voters at Stanton
Middle, the site of the other new elementary school, turned down
the bond issue by a decisive 64%. Highlands Elementary in west
Wilmington, where air conditioning was to be installed and other
immediate steps taken to accommodate a plan being developed to
initiate year-around schooling, registered a 54% negative vote.
residents could vote at any polling place, results do not
necessarily reflect sentiment at a given school. People,
however, more often than not vote at the location nearest their
residence. And every Red Clay school hosted parent-attracting
events during voting hours. Friendly student greeters were
posted at the entrance to the former Wilmington High School,
which now houses Charter School of Wilmington and Cab Calloway
School of the Arts.
we did a good job getting the message out," Andrzejewski. said.
speculated, however, that the plan may have been too large for
residents to digest. The decision to wrap it in a single package
which resident could, in effect, vote up or down may have doomed
it. Manning said, however, that he remains strongly opposed to
splitting, for instance, construction of new schools from
renovating existing ones. "Everybody goes through this together.
I'm not ready to split it up into [separate projects for] parts
of the district," he said.
Andrzejewski thinks that a sputtering
economy could have had a bearing on the outcome and suggested
that the relatively large number of private and parochial
schools within Red Clay's borders may have been a contributing
Manning said lack of support by the
leadership of the union representing district teachers, for what
he described as "petty political reasons." had an influence. He
explained that had to do with their being "obviously worked up
about charter-school proposals."
Also, he added, "there was some
misinformation spread about." A particular point was a
perception, which he branded as false, that the district's
embrasure of public school choice not only for district
residents but also families living outside the district is
driving its desire for additional student capacity. "The notion
that we keep Red Clay children out to let others in is
absolutely baseless," he said.
With the fiscal and academic year
winding down, the timing of another referendum is uncertain.
Andrzejewski said it might be appropriate to mount an effort
before June 30, when the present Delaware Department of
Education certificate of necessity authorizing the building
projects expires with General Assembly passage of the state
capital authorization, or so-called bond bill, expires. A weak
economy, he reasoned, might preclude DelDOE from sanctioning
such a large venture in fiscal 2002.
Manning said he is "just one of
seven" board members who will make the decision, but indicated
he is not particularly disposed toward a quick return and doubts
that waiting a few months would jeopardize being able to seek
the entire program. "Even if the certificate expires, I think it
would be difficult [for DelDOE] to justify denial of the same
thing they granted before," he said.
officer Richard Moretti said another vote could be arranged
within about 30 days after a board decision to hold one. State
law prohibits school districts from holding more than two
referendums in any 12-month period, but a requirement that six
months pass before returning to the voters was repealed several