August 27, 2004

Brandywood Elementary School would be replaced by a new building rather than be closed under an additional alternative plan put before the Brandywine School District's facilities planning taskforce.

The panel apparently is within a week of presenting preliminary options to the school board so they can be put before public hearings in late September. The board expects to receive the taskforce's final recommendation, which would take into account testimony at the hearings, in time to take action at its October meeting.

It must do so in order for the plan, which is linked to the third and final phase of the district's building renovation program, to meet the state Department of Education's end-of-October deadline for submitting proposals for inclusion in the state's capital-spending budget to be presented to the General Assembly in January. The state provides 60% of the capital costs of school building programs.

Unless it meets the DelDOE deadline, the board's plan to hold a bond referendum in the spring of 2005 and to begin third-phase work in the next fiscal year would have to be put off at least a year. In addition to delaying the program and likely escalating its cost, that also would result in having to hold two referendums at the same time. The district administration and board have indicated that they intend to seek an increase in the operations tax rate ceiling in the spring of 2006.

"We think that is a realistic goal at this time," co-chair Barbara Meredith told a taskforce meeting on Aug. 26. But, she added and co-chair Jeff Bullock agreed, the group doesn't want to end several weeks of careful and systematic consideration with a rush-job finale.

As Delaforum previously reported, the taskforce apparently had come close to a consensus around a plan which would close Brandywood and replace it and Lancashire Elementary with a new building. Hanby Middle School also would be closed and Harlan Intermediate would be converted to a middle school. That scenario is based on eliminating the intermediate tier from the district's grade configuration. Students would go to elementary school through the fourth grade, middle school through the eighth grade and then to high school.

The taskforce had previously considered closure of either Hanby or Springer Middle School. Ed Capodanno, who chairs one of the taskforce's scope and assessment committee, said that group had decided that keeping and renovating Springer would be preferable because of its size, location and other considerations.

The new proposal is a variation on that which Bullock referred to as "splitting the difference." As presented by David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer, it calls for building new schools to replace both Lancashire and Brandywood and thereby increase elementary school capacity to what is

considered a more comfortable margin. Not only would Mount Pleasant Elementary not have to absorb an enrollment considerably larger than the traditional Brandywine model, but it would end up with space available to accommodate district offices moved from what is considered outmoded quarters

Facilities options

  Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3
Grade configuration K-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-12 K-4, 5-8, 9-12 K-4, 5-8, 9-12
Schools renovated or new Lancashire (new), P.S. du Pont, Hanby, Springer Lancashire (new), P.S. du Pont, Springer; convert Harlan to K-4, convert Claymont to 5-8 Bramdywood, Lancashire (new); P.S. du Pont, Springer; convert Harlan to K-4, convert Claymont to 5-8
Schools/facilities closed District office, Brandywood, Bush District office, Brandywood, Bush, Hanby District office, Bush, Hanby
Program capacity K-3: 3,768; 406: 2,958;
7-8: 2,081; 9-12: 3,910
K-4: 4,296; 5-8: 3,652;
9-12: 3,910
K-4: 4,346; 5-8: 3,652;
9-12: 3,910
Projected enrollment (2009-10 academic year) K-3: 3,074; 4-6: 2,217;
7-8: 1,683; 9-12: 3,127
K-4: 3,809; 5-8: 3,165;
9-12: 3,127
K-4: 3,809; 5-8: 3,165;
9-12: 3,127
Excess capacity K-3: 22.58%; 4-6: 33.42%;
7-8: 23.65%; 25.04%
K-4: 12.79%; 5-8: 15.39%;
9-12: 25.04%
K-4: 14.10%; 5-8: 15.39%;
9-12: 25.04%
Savings in local operating costs $748,000 $1,623,000 $1,168,000
Capital cost (state & local) $111,682,526 $93,086,179 $105,312.815
When attendance zone boundaries would change 2010-11 2010-11 2008-09

in the former Claymont Pennsylvania Avenue School building in Radnor Green.

Since most of taskforce members were hearing that plan for the first time, there was no effort at the meeting to force a vote or otherwise test a consensus. An additional meeting was scheduled that will still enable the taskforce to submit its proposed options before the Labor Day holiday.

Undecided now is whether to submit two or three options to the board and the public. The taskforce's charge calls for at least two plans -- one of which is to be based on keeping the present four-tier grade configuration. That scenario meeting that requirement which is before the taskforce also would replace Lancashire and close Brandywood. Up to four plans can be presented. All three of the ones now on the table call for closing the Bush Early Education Center and relocating its programs in one or more of the elementary schools.

Blowman said a phase-three renovation program which the district sent to DelDOE in June as a preliminary proposal is no longer a possibility. It called for spending $130 million to renovate all buildings not renovated during the completed first phase of the program or part of the second phase, now in progress. Cost of the third phase options, including possible building closures, ranges between $93 million and $111 million.

The taskforce also will put forth a proposal for upgrading athletic and play facilities. Those are projected to cost between $2.7 million and $4.4 million, depending upon which option is selected. Most of that would have to be raised as local revenue although some of the capital costs could be shifted to the renovations budget.

Possible timetables for the third phase given to the taskforce extend until the 2012-13 academic year. Somewhere along the line, attendance zones would have to be changed.

Also disclosed at the Aug. 26 meeting was a list of what were labeled "clarifications" of the board's charge and members' thinking, evidently developed at a 'retreat' in late July.

The key one is to have an excess capacity of "at least 12% ... [in] each building" to allow for error in projecting the magnitude of expected declines in enrollment and the possibility that marketing efforts will result in attracting a significant number of transfers from charter and nonpublic schools. "The consensus [of the board] was that the district should err on the side of excess capacity rather than run the risk of closing too many schools and needing to re-open and reconfigure feeder patterns in a few years," the relevant 'clarification' said.

In current school parlance, the term 'feeder pattern' now is used to refer to attendance zones rather than the progression of students from one school to another.

The 'clarifications' also include one which said that the board "will determine a way to gather public input through [or] by polling the public in an advisory election or through surveys" unless response at the public hearings -- of which there will be three at different locations -- is "unambiguous." The board held such a non-binding plebiscite while formulating its response to the Neighborhood Schools Act.

Board member Craig Gilbert told the taskforce that he, for one, intends to give considerable weight to public response at the hearings. Doing so, he explained, is the only way the district will be able to gather enough support to obtain a favorable vote in the bond referendum. "I'm in favor of turning this over to the public. It's not my district; it's the public's district," he said.

If turnout for the hearings is low, Gilbert favors holding a plebiscite or conducting a survey. "I'm looking for more than 100 people to be able to present their views," he said.

Taskforce member Lori Walls took some issue with that, saying that "the public will not have all the information we have." She advocated the taskforce's coalescing around one of the options and presenting that as "what's best for the district."

During a brief public comment section at the end of the meeting, an attender noted that relatively few people who live in the district "are aware of what's going on." Superintendent Bruce Harter acknowledged that there has been minimal publicity so far, but said a special edition of the district newsletter -- which is mailed to all residential addresses -- and the district Web site will be used to provide extensive information before the public hearings.

In response to concern expressed about response by both the public and state education officials and lawmakers to the idea of building one or two new schools when the Brandywine has and will still have excess capacity, Blowman said "we can make a strong case" for doing so on the grounds that new construction is not significantly more costly than renovation "and you end up with a brand new building."

While presenting what he said was a rough estimate of expected savings in operating costs will enable the district to "leverage that money for other uses."

Although teachers and other staff members from closed schools can be reassigned, there would be some savings, he said, from eliminating such positions as principals, custodians and cafeteria workers. Larger savings would come in energy costs, technology infrastructure. Harter said the changes are too distant at this point to speculate on how much of a reduction-in-force would be required.


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