routine 20-minute meeting of the school board on Aug. 15,
Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski confirmed that full use of
the state's public school choice law will be a basis of a plan
being drafted by administrator Gail Ames and scheduled to be
presented at five public hearings before the board votes in
October to submit it to the state Board of Education.
earlier this year refused to authorize a bond sale to provide
money for the local share of the cost of a state record-size
building program which included construction of elementary
schools in Stanton and near Hockessin. At the time, district
officials said the new schools were needed if Red Clay is to
complete the transition to an all-choice district.
the issue. Is the state going to come up with the money? Other
districts are going to have capital problems as well,"
not specific on whether Red Clay would seek construction
financing from the state beyond its standard 70% involvement in
such ventures. Officials have said the district intends to
return to voters, but so far there have been no indications, at
least in public view, of when that might happen.
Becnel, vice president of the Red Clay school board, said the
big question is whether the district is correct in believing
that a choice-based plan would satisfy the requirements of the
Neighborhood Schools Act. "It meets the spirit of the law. We
all support the spirit of the law. What we have to find out is
whether it meets the letter of the law," he said.
put that question to its lawyer, Fred DeAngelo, during a
closed-door executive session before the open business meeting, Becnel said. At the public session, the issue came up only in
the form of approval of a timetable for presenting and adopting
a plan. It is to be made public on Sept. 10 and there will
be public hearings on Sept. 12, 13, 19 and 25 and on Oct. 17.
Sept. 19 and Oct. 17 are scheduled dates for regular
school board meetings and Sept. 12 will be a special meeting to
receive the plan. The board vote is scheduled to be taken at the
Oct. 17 meeting.
process being followed differs from what is happening in the
Brandywine, Christina and Colonial districts. Those are the
other district which are required to produce plans for assigning
children to schools closest to their homes for submission to the
state board by Nov. 15. In the other districts, committees are
dealing with the issue in an open process.
said the Red Clay board has had extensive communication with its
constituency regarding its school-choice goal and that the
public will have ample time to comment on specifics of the
neighborhood schools plan through the hearings process.
the decision of the administration and the board to do it this
way," Ames said.
said Red Clay has had sufficient experience with using a choice
arrangement, rather than traditional attendance zones, to "know
that it works." Students have been required to choose among the
three high schools since 1995 and, as far as he knows, no one
has been denied his or her first choice. Brandywine Springs
Elementary, which opened last year, is an all-choice
kindergarten-through-fifth grade school. Where grades have been
added to schools, those grades are accessible only through the
we let people choose, the less problems we have," he said. "Not
everybody necessarily wants to go to the school closest to
choice law requires filing an application before a January
deadline with acceptance of the request dependent upon there
being space available in the chosen grade and school. If a grade
or school is oversubscribed, certain priorities are applied and,
after that, a lottery is used. Red Clay has established a
'preferred' zone around Brandywine Springs through which
students living in a small area close to the school are
considered at the head of the line. More students applied to
attend Brandywine Springs than could be accommodated.
student's parents do not apply, the student is assigned by use
of a traditional attendance zone. At Linden Hill Elementary,
where a third grade has been added, a rising third-grader is
required to submit a choice application. If his or her parents
do not do so, that student is assigned to Warner Elementary. It
is not clear what happens if Red Clay becomes an all-choice
district and traditional attendance zones are therefore wiped
said he could not speculate on whether the state board will be
receptive to using choice rather than traditional
student-assignment but said that, if the plan is rejected, the
board will "go directly to the legislature."
want to deal with the state board. The legislature wrote the
law. I would like to see how they interpret it," he added.
General Assembly did, in a sense, have a crack at the issue of
substituting a new approach for a traditional one in that
Wilmington presented a schools plan calling for establishing a
district that would phase in a combination of charter schools
and a choice arrangement. After receiving the report, the
Assembly ignored it. Representative Wayne Smith, author of the
Neighborhood Schools Act, told Delaforum at the time that the
city's proposal was too vague to be the basis of a new
arrangement but that he, and presumably other legislators, would
be open to discussing the issue further.
provides that if the state board rejects a district's plan, the
district has 60 days in which to submit another one. After that,
it can be taken to court to force compliance. The Assembly will
have reconvened during the 60-day period beginning at the
earliest after Nov. 15 that the state board could act on the Red
"Hopefully, we'll never get to that
point," Becnel replied when asked what the Red Clay board would
do if the state board turns down its initial plan.