go back to our community without this kind of thorough study,"
superintendent Bruce Harter told the organizational meeting of a
taskforce charged with setting priorities for the third of three
phases of building modernization while determining how best to
match schools with a declining student enrollment.
meeting on May 10, Harter posed three questions to be answered:
the district "plan to consolidate students in fewer schools" or
should it mount a marketing effort to more fully use its
'consolidation' is the recommended option, should the present
four-tier grade configuration be maintained or should
alternative configurations, based largely on how the buildings
are designed, be established?
should be done to halt or reverse the downward trend in
enrollment by making Brandywine schools "more attractive to
families who send their children to private schools"?
29-member taskforce, co-chaired by Jeff Bullock and Barbara
Meredith, is divided into three committees, which will study and
rank buildings not yet renovated on the basis of need for
upgrading; coordinate potential renovation plans with a view to
achieving the most cost-effective combination of size and state
financing; and to set priorities for improving athletic fields
and playgrounds and how best to finance that work.
on the taskforce are school personnel and volunteers from the
civic, business and political communities.
taskforce as a whole is to produce preliminary recommendations
for consideration at public hearings on Aug. 24, Sept. 8 and
Sept. 22, and to make final recommendations for review by the
school board on Oct. 4 and adoption on Oct. 18. If that
timetable is not met, Harter said, the district will be unable
to receive Delaware Department of Education approval to proceed
with a spring, 2005, referendum and, if successful, to obtain
state financing to begin the third phase of modernization upon
completion of the second phase in the 2006 fiscal year.
of the capital referendum is pushed back, it would impose a
choice of having to hold it concurrently with or close to a
likely vote in 2006 on an increase in the operating tax rate
ceiling or putting it off until 2007. A capital referendum
approves, or rejects, sale of 20-year bonds with debt service
funded by a separate component of the total tax rate. Operations
are tax-financed on a pay-as-you-go basis.
the most basic issue with which the taskforce has to deal is
whether to maintain what is perceived to be a community
preference for small primary-grade schools in light of the
state's financing formula, which pegs the number of authorized
teachers and associated allowances for other costs to the size
of the student population. It is theoretically possible, Harter
pointed out, that a school could be too small to be authorized a
the district's current student enrollment, 10,569, is 88% of
rated program capacity based on the type of students served.
Absent effective measures to attract students from elsewhere
through use of the state's public school choice law and to draw
from the approximately 4,000 children living within the
district's geographic boundaries who attend private and
parochial schools, that gap is projected to increase. Another
400 Brandywine District students attend charter schools and
would be targeted for 'return' to its conventional schools.
suggested that a preliminary step in that direction would be to
engage "a professional firm to see if there is really a market
out there for the services we offer." A key, he added, is to
continue to provide "distinctive schools and programs."
sure, the possible closure of a school is likely to produce the
most effusive public reaction and, to the extent it would be
associated with a bid for local financing for renovating other
buildings, could prove to be a significant handicap. Some people
are still smarting over the district's closing of Claymont High
School nearly a generation ago.
taskforce's mandate, in its final form, specifies buildings
eligible for closure as those which have not been renovated nor
currently are being or slated for renovation -- Brandywood,
Bush, Hanby, Lancashire, P.S. du Pont and Springer -- the 'Phase
Two' building whose renovation is programmed but not yet planned
-- Talley -- and previously renovated buildings with significant
work, such as roof replacement, remaining -- Brandywine,
Carrcroft, Darley Road and Maple Lane.
that list is officially on the table, there appeared at the
meeting to be a general consensus that P.S., the signature
building of the former Wilmington Public Schools, is all but
assured of passing muster and Harter specifically referred to
Carrcroft as "one of our gems." Counter to some early
speculation, Harter said, "We're going to renovate Lombardy
[Elementary], not close it."
considering closure -- which the district terms 'consolidation'
-- Harter emphasized that the taskforce's mandate requires that
"our present socio-economic balance" be maintained. The mandate
defines that as the present 20%-60% range of students eligible
for free or reduced-price lunches while saying that reducing the
upper limit to 50% would be "desirable."
not specified in the mandate nor referred to in the
superintendent's remarks, the former Burnett Middle School
building in Wilmington, and the former Pennsylvania Avenue
Elementary building in Radnor Green will likely come in for
consideration. Burnett currently houses the district's
alternative-education program and Pennsylvania Avenue serves as
the district's administrative offices.
Previously mentioned as likely to be included in the capital
referendum is authorization to finance acquisition of a site for
the district's bus depot to replace the currently leased one in
flip side of the public-reaction coin is the taskforce's mandate
to set priorities for improving athletic fields and playgrounds.
committee will begin its deliberations around a study in 2003 by
Duffield Associates, a consulting engineering firm, which
recommended $870,000 worth of improvements at eight schools --
Brandywine, Concord and Mount Pleasant High; Hanby, Springer and
Talley Middle; and Claymont and P.S. du Pont Intermediate. That
study also recommended spending between $70,800 and $81,300
annually to maintain them after the work was done.
such work would not be included in the state's 60% match of
districts' 40% financing of major capital projects, the
taskforce's mandate calls for coming up with a method to pay for
the recommended improvements. An adjunct to the building
modernization plan approved for financing in the last referendum
provided for levying a one-time, one-year tax to finance
construction of new running tracks at the district's three high
Brainstorming sessions by taskforce members after Harter's
presentation covered a variety of ideas, including such things
as moving administrative offices to the high-rise Burnett
building; combining primary and intermediate grades into
kindergarten-through-fifth or sixth grade elementary schools but
housing them in separate areas in the building; providing more
extensive vocational education; offering additional 'magnet'
programs, such as arts education; seeking state or county
support, or both, for maintaining athletic fields in return for
making them available for community use; and significantly
improving discipline, which is said to be the main reason why so
many parents opt out of public-school education for their