September 20, 2001

The Red Clay school board is essentially committed to submitting the district's school-choice arrangement as its Neighborhood Schools Act plan, board president William Manning declared. In another matter, the board, at Manning's behest, went on record as calling for abolition of the Delaware Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

The plan, Manning said on Sept. 19 at the conclusion of the third of five public hearings on how to implement the controversial law, is "to continue doing what we have been doing for the last six or seven years."

Using the state's public school choice law would allow students and their parents to decide which schools they want attend irrespective of whether those schools are closest to their homes as the law seeks to mandate.

The district, Manning said, will "let families choose instead of seven people like us (board members) decide who is to go where."

While the three other districts required by the law to restore at least a semblance of the school-assignment system which existed before federal court in 1978 ordered consolidation of Wilmington and suburban districts as a means to achieve racial integration are using extensive processes to come up with plans, "Red Clay will continue to put choice before assignment," he said.

No one else on the board disputed Manning or offered any comments on the subject. Only two people testified at the hearing -- one of them Wilmington City Councilman Charles Potter, who criticized the law.

The Red Clay board is scheduled to officially vote on Oct. 17 to submit the choice plan to the state Board of Education in time to meet the Nov. 15 deadline specified in the law.

Later, during the board's regular business meeting, Manning opened fire on the athletic association, a quasipublic agency which regulates schoolboy and -girl sports.

An objection from a community ice hockey organization which had been granted club status at Alexis I. du Pont High School only to have that rescinded as being in violation to an agency regulation against recognition of so-called club sports in Delaware high schools.

Manning said the district and school should either ignore the objection or grant the club the same privileges of associating with the school that other community groups, such as the Boy Scouts, have.

During a discussion of district legislative priorities to be submitted to members of the General Assembly, Manning added one which called for abolishing the agency and replacing it with a new board with broader representation. Manning said that the present structure is peopled by coaches and the like with vested interests in preserving their own sports and limiting others from competing for available athletes.

Among the other priorities adopted by the board is one calling for the state to increase the amount of money allocated to districts to finance transportation by at least 10% so the districts can provide service to students attending schools under the choice law. They currently have to get to and from those schools on their own.

"It's absolutely stupid [to say] districts have to provide choice but the [state] will not pay for transportation. That's nothing but bureaucratic baloney," said vice president Irwin Becnel.

The priorities also ask for legislation changing the present 70-30 split of capital costs to have the state pay 80% for major capital improvements and the entire cost of new school construction. Red Clay last spring unsuccessfully sought voter authorization to borrow the local 30% share of the cost of new elementary schools in Stanton and near Hockessin, which it said is necessary to complete the transition to all-choice student enrollments.

In other business, the board heard objections to sudden termination of an alternative education program. Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski agreed to make arrangements to provide for the students who have been displaced by the move.

It also again deferred a proposal to declare the former Absalom Jones School building surplus. The structure now houses a community center and there are efforts underway to have New Castle County assume jurisdiction if not ownership of the property. Curiously, minutes of the August business meeting, at which the matter also was deferred, contained am erroneous notation that the declaration had been made. The notation was complete with the name of the board members offering and seconding a motion, which actually was never made.

Member Charles Cavanaugh was recognized with a resolution commending him for having served on the board since the district was established 20 years ago. He is the only member to have done so.

2001. All rights reserved.

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