workshop session on Oct. 1 members of the board gave vent to
their strongest-yet expression of views against accepting what
they and others familiar with the situation feel will be
unwelcome consequences from implementing the law. Of the four
districts affected, Brandywine has been the most vigorously
opposed to wholesale change in the configuration of its schools
and student attendance patterns mandated by the law.
being told to spend [more than] $2 million to change the average
distance [students travel] to school by half a mile," said board
president Nancy Doorey. "It's something that does not create any
educational benefits, but does serious educational harm."
Raye Jones Avery who laid down the challenge "to join the
Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee [and be] conscientious
objectors to the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000." Avery
chaired that committee, whose recommendation to establish an
all-charter school district in the city while dividing its
neighborhoods between the Brandywine and Red Clay districts
until that was being accomplished was accepted by City Council
but ignored by the Assembly.
committee, she said, met its charge to produce recommendations
"although from the beginning most of us felt we were dealing
with a law that was wrong." She said that view came forth in the
committee's declaration that it regarded the law as
unconstitutional. "We could not in good conscience just look at
the reassignment of children based on geographic residence," she
challenge was taken up later in the session by Haick Vatnick,
father of three Brandywine students, who said, "What is the will
power of this board if it reaches the decision that 'none of the
above' (any of the three plans under consideration) is the right
thing to do?"
board vice president Janice Tunell to ask state Representative
David Ennis and Senator Dallas Winslow, who were in the
audience, "What would happen if we choose not to do this?" Her
remark referred to the law's requirement that Brandywine and the
three other districts formerly under a federal court racial
desegregation order submit plans to assign students to schools
nearest their homes to the state Board of Education by Nov. 15.
lawmaker openly encouraged violating the law, but Ennis replied
that "postponing or rewriting [the law] is an option" after the
Assembly reconvenes in regular session in January. He said that
a tightening of the state's pursestrings as the result of a
sagging economy may lead the legislature to back off from
appropriating money to finance transition costs in the four
districts and what he said was agreement to give money to other
districts in return for support for the law from Kent and Sussex
provides for a one-time payment of $1.25 million to finance the
transition and allows districts to pocket 'savings' in state
school bus transportation costs for 10 years. Brandywine
superintendent Bruce Harter later told the meeting that a
preliminary cost analysis of the three pending plans put their
net operating and capital costs around $2 million. Board
members, however, came up with several cost items not included
in his calculations. Harter said transportation savings, which
had been factored into the net costs, would amount to between
$239,000 and $501,000 depending upon which plan is adopted.
call for assigning students to schools with modified attendance
areas based on either postal zip codes or the geometric
midpoints between schools or establishing a 'magnet' school in
the combined P.S. du Pont and Harlan buildings in the city. The
district has prepared and displayed attendance area maps showing
the resulting configurations, but so far has not responded to a
Delaforum request to obtain readable copies to post.
delegation of teachers and staff members at Mount Pleasant High
School, which formed the largest bloc of attenders at the
meeting, asked to be allowed to formulate yet another plan, but
Harter told them that a district committee has been functioning
since June and that time remaining before the Nov. 15 deadline
does not allow for introducing yet another plan into the
indicated he thinks the district should go ahead and file a plan
with the state on time because it is unlikely the Assembly will
take up the matter before its regular session. Implementation of
any plan is presently expected to begin in September, 2003.
said he "certainly would not recommend that we break the law"
and Doorey said that any decision to not comply with the
plan-submission requirement "is something that we would not make
lightly [nor without] first conferring with our lawyer in
said that he "is happy to see that the [Brandywine] board is
putting the facts on the table, which is something I thought the
Senate and House [of Representatives] should have done before
they voted on this bill." He said he also agrees with the
board's decision to hold a public vote on the plans on Oct. 30.
It is intended to include a non-binding plebiscite on the law as
part of that vote.
of the above' gets a substantial vote, that should send a
message to legislators who supported this bill," Winslow said.
voted against passage of the law; Ennis was recorded as not
voting when the House passed the measure 29-6.
workshop meeting was called to discuss the educational
implications of implementing the law. No one came up with any
expected benefits nor did anyone on the panel or in the audience
voice support for it. Doorey remarked that even the supposed
nostalgic return to children walking to school is likely to be
minimal. "Nowadays, no matter how close they live, parents are
likely to drive them," she said.
said that the workshop was the beginning of an effort to "inform
the public" before the Oct. 30 vote. The portion of the meeting
which included presentations by Avery and Audrey Noble, director
of the University of Delaware's Education Research and
Development Center, was videotaped and will be shown several
times on the Comcast public-access cable channel, beginning on
Oct. 14. A presentation by Jerry Weast, superintendent of the
Montgomery County, Md., school district, who could not attend
the meeting, will be added before the edited tape is broadcast.
Brandywine also is preparing an informational flyer which will
be mailed to all residences in the district.
said the information effort will cost about $12,000, which she
described as "a small investment to give information to people
about something that is going to cost them (as taxpayers) $2
million to $3 million to implement."
told the meeting that the most pronounced effect of implementing
the Brandywine plans will be to increase the number of racially
identifiable high-poverty schools in the district from three to
six or seven, depending upon which plan is adopted. A
high-poverty school, she said, requires a considerable
investment of resources." I'm not sure you're going to save
enough on busing to pay the additional costs of those special
programs," she said.
'racially identifiable' in the context used at the meeting
referred to a preponderance of black students, all but a couple
of schools would so qualify if the term were used literally
since white youngsters would comprise a large majority in their
elsewhere in the county pay teachers salary bonuses ranging up
to $5,000 a year to accept positions in such schools and still
have great difficulty in attracting the highly qualified
teachers that are required, Noble said.
said "we only have to look to look to the city of Philadelphia,
or Chester or Baltimore, to see the kind of problems we are
going to create in Wilmington."
just poverty, but cultural literacy," she said. "Those trends
are already beginning to emerge." It shows up, for instance, in
such things as "sending babies to kindergarten in a basement
where they can't see the light of day." The kindergarten program
for city children is conducted in the lower level of the P.S.
a situation that is ideal. Why should be change it?" said board
member Harold Thompson.
widespread and growing acceptance of racial diversity in the
nation, "policymakers and community residents seem to think that
desegregation is no longer necessary," Noble said. As a
result, there is "an increasing pattern of resegregation -- not
just of African Americans but especially of Latinos -- in our
"Who's to say that in five years we
won't be back in court?," Tunell said.