February 22, 2001

Brandywine School District is seeking Delaware Department of Education permission to modify its approve school renovation plan to permit leasing or acquiring modular classrooms to house dislocated students and to include athletic facilities -- specifically at least one all-weather running track -- in the plan.

Assistant Superintendent Donald Fantine said after a special school board meeting on Feb. 21 that those things are permissible within state law and policies and could be accomplished within the $96 million plan DelDOE approved last autumn. He was not specific, however, as to what elements of the original plan would have to be changed to accommodate the new ones.

In any event, district voters will have to authorize $38.4 million worth of bonds in order for any plan to become operative.

The board meeting was called to react to and set courses of action for implementing the  26 recommendations contained in a recently published report of a financial review taskforce. Most of the discussion, however, focused on the building plan and that current state of school maintenance and custodial services.

Fantine told the meeting that providing a modular classroom complex, on either the Concord High School campus at Naamans and Ebright Roads or at the site of the closed Chanin School farther east on Naamans Road, would enable six school buildings to be modernized within a year apiece instead of three or four years that would be required if the work was done in sections while the buildings remained in operation.

The track issue is one that has been pending for several years, particularly as regards Brandywine High School where a parents group has been pressing hard for replacing the existing one. The\ taskforce recommended that an all-weather track be installed at at least one of the district's three high schools if not all of them. The taskforce found that other athletic facilities and playgrounds have deteriorated to the extent that they "appear below the standards of other districts in Delaware."

Fantine told the board that installing a playground that meets current safety and other standards can cost between $80,000 and $100,000. No longer can parent volunteers handle that job, he said.

A committee being formed to address the issue has been given a tight timetable.

Its information, along with other material bearing on the matter must be on hand by the board's Mar. 19 business meeting. It must decide that night whether to move forward with a capital referendum this school year.

The window for doing so is roughly the last two weeks in May and the first week in June. The state Department of Elections for New Castle County requires six weeks to prepare to conduct a referendum vote and the General Assembly must have results in time to include or not include the state share of the cost in the annual capital budget traditionally enacted just before the session concludes at the end of June.

A taskforce suggestion that the DelDOE-approved plan is outdated because cost estimates were made two years ago was rejected. Todd Conn, supervisor of school facilities, said all the estimates have been reviewed within the past six months and contain inflation factors to allow for later timing of actual construction.

Although no definitive action was taken, discussion by board members and administrators at the special meeting conveyed a sense that the board is leaning toward holding a capital referendum but is still ambivalent about whether to go for an operating tax rate increase at the same time.

The taskforce recommended it be put off until the 2001-02 school and fiscal year. Holding one this fiscal year, however, would give Brandywine a third opportunity to obtain voter approval since state law requires school districts to provide a six-month interval between going to referendum.

It was mentioned that the district has hired a public information officer and that her primary initial duty will be "a major effort toward building public trust." That has been cited as the major determinant factor with regard to holding one or more referendum. She was identified by Superintendent Victoria Gehrt as Carol Riggs and was said to have extensive experience in school-community relations in Maryland.

A taskforce observation that, disstrictwide, Brandywine is overstaffed with custodians but several of its buildings are lacking in the cleanliness department drew a split response. On the one hand, Conn said relating janitorial positions to the number of students in a building, as the taskforce did, was not an appropriate measure of productivity. On the other hand, he acknowledged a wide disparity in training and experience among the custodial staff and said steps are being to taken to improve their training and supervision.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous story: School tax votes pending.

Read the Brandywine Financial Review Taskforce report.

Read previous story: Brandywine school plan approved





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