April 21, 2004

The taskforce being established to evaluate Brandywine School District facilities against probable future needs and to develop a proposal for a capital spending referendum in 2005 was given a broad mandate by the school board.

The only thing off the table is recommending closure of any recently renovated building. And the board reserved the right to put that back on the table if the committee dealing with facilities feels strongly that that should be done.

The mandate is somewhat vague on which buildings are exempt, coming at it in a backhanded way by stating that the taskforce "may consider only those schools that have not been renovated since 1999." If taken literally, that refers only to Harlan Intermediate.

Concord High is currently being renovated as is a wing of Claymont Intermediate. Mount Pleasant Elementary and Mount Pleasant High have had some renovation work done. Plans for renovating Forward Elementary, beginning during the coming summer, have been completed. Renovations of Lombardy Elementary and Talley Middle are to be planned in the coming fiscal year and undertaken during the 2005-06 academic year.

Five buildings -- Carrcroft, Darley Road and Maple Lane Elementary and Mount Pleasant and Brandywine High -- were renovated in the 1990s, but that work was completed before 1999.

John Read, who oversees the renovations program, later said the intent was to exclude Concord and Mount Pleasant High, Talley Middle, Harlan Intermediate, and Forward, Lombardy and Mount Pleasant Elementary.

Board member David Adkins questioned if establishing a no-close zone was a good idea, whether its boundary was vaguely or clearly defined. "They should be allowed to [recommend closing] any building that makes sense," he said. He did not press the point when board president Nancy Doorey responded that the mandate could be easily altered if that proves desirable.

Adkins did caution that the district "doesn't want to end up with another Channin or Old Mill Lane." Buildings in those communities were closed in the last 1970s and have since become derelicts. Superintendent Bruce Harter replied, "It is incumbent on the district that that never happens."

The section of the mandate dealing with building closure was further clouded earlier in the meeting on Apr. 19 when the board accepted a recommendation from its renovations oversight committee that modular classrooms at Lombardy Elementary be replaced by permanent ones, probably in a new wing.

The board agreed unanimously with Edward Capodano, chairman of the committee, who said "we (the district) need the space over there" and continuing to use what he referred to as "relocatable classrooms" in a building otherwise brought up to state-of-the-art standards "makes absolutely no sense."

"We're not coming here with anything new or that hasn't been [previously] discussed," he said.

Board member Craig Gilbert said that voters at the referendum which authorized borrowing money to finance the current second phase of the district's proposed long-term modernization program "overwhelmingly endorsed a commitment to do [with Lombardy] what the renovations oversight committee and [district] staff has done -- to study what should be done."

Since voters approved financing the $38 million renovation program in 2001, the state has moved in the direction of requiring public school districts to provide full-day, rather than half-day, kindergartens. That, Gilbert said, will require additional space at Lombardy Elementary. "That wasn't on our radar screen" when the renovation plan was adopted, he said.

Doorey said that adding a wing to Lombardy Elementary would require "adding just 1 a year to the [capital spending] tax rate."

The facilities committee also will not be allowed to produce a plan that would have the effect of increasing the number of schools defined under federal guidelines as being 'high poverty' in nature. No plan that would make the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in any school higher than 60% would be acceptable and "reducing the high[est] to below 50% would be desirable."

In unanimously approving the taskforce mandate, board members and district spokeswoman Wendy Lapham stressed that possible closure of one or more school buildings was neither the purpose for establishing the advisory panel nor intended to be its key focus.

There also will be a program committee which will be expected to come up with recommendations on whether Brandywine should continue its traditional small-schools approach, particularly at the elementary level, and its present four-tier configuration of grades. When the board conducted a straw vote on how to deal with the state Neighborhood Schools Act, the vote favored by a wide margin retaining the present set-up, originally imposed by federal court to provide for children to attend desegregated schools in the city of Wilmington for at least three years.

A third committee will study athletic facilities and playgrounds with an eye toward recommending priorities for improving existing ones and financing that work.

The taskforce as a whole will be required to meet in public session and, against a background of expected declines in enrollment and a desire to "attract students who are not currently served" by the district, to "make recommendations that are both educationally sound and fiscally efficient" to the  board by Oct. 1.

2004. All rights reserved.

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