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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
(new); P.S. du Pont, Springer; convert
Harlan to K-4, convert Claymont to 5-8
Brandywood, Bush, Hanby
District office, Bush,
K-3: 3,768; 406: 2,958;
7-8: 2,081; 9-12: 3,910
K-4: 4,296; 5-8: 3,652;
K-4: 4,346; 5-8: 3,652;
(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;
K-4: 3,809; 5-8: 3,165;
K-3: 22.58%; 4-6: 33.42%;
7-8: 23.65%; 25.04%
K-4: 12.79%; 5-8: 15.39%;
K-4: 14.10%; 5-8: 15.39%;
Savings in local
Capital cost (state &
When attendance zone
boundaries would change
in the former
Claymont Pennsylvania Avenue School
building in Radnor Green.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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,"
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.