September 2, 2004

Four options for aligning the Brandywine School District will be put before a series of public hearings later in September. But minutes after deciding that, the facilities planning taskforce got a glimpse of what they might expect in the way of response.

With an oral consensus vote which appeared to be unanimous, the taskforce decided on Sept. 1 to include a proposal for the third and final phase of the district's renovation program which, although it is technically before the Delaware Department of Education for review, was originally presented to the Brandywine school board as unlikely to come to pass and is still being described as "a placeholder."

The other three options, as previously reported by Delaforum, are scenarios which call for closing various combinations of Brandywood Elementary, Hanby Middle and the Bush Early Education Center and relocating the district office. Lancashire Elementary would be replaced by a new building and, under one scenario, so would Brandywood. Two of the plans call for changing the district's elementary-level grade configuration.

A group of Hanby staff members, who said they came to the meeting in response to "rumors about what you're doing," took advantage of an invitation to comment at the end of the session, to protest closure of that school.

The hearings will be Sept. 23 at Mount Pleasant Elementary, Sept. 28 at Harlan Intermediate and Sept. 29 at Hanby. All are scheduled to run from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Superintendent Bruce Harter said a special edition of the Brandywine Review containing information about the options will be mailed before the hearings to all residential addresses in the district and more detailed data will be posted on the district's Web site.

Board member Craig Gilbert said that the board wants as much public opinion as possible factored into the recommendation or recommendations that the taskforce will hand up in October. The board will make the final decision on a plan to submit to DelDOE by the end of October. It is necessary to meet that deadline in order to have the state's 60% share of the cost included in the state capital spending

 budget to be approved by the General Assembly in June, 2005.

Brandywine residents must approve a 20-year bond issue to finance the district's 40% share of the cost in a referendum planned for the spring of 2005.

David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer, told the taskforce that Brandywine's

Facilities options

  Pending plan Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3
Grade configuration K-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-12 K-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-12 K-4, 5-8, 9-12 K-4, 5-8, 9-12
Schools/facilities renovated or new Bush (new), Brandywood, Lancashire, P.S. du Pont, Hanby, Springer, district office, bus depot (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 n/a 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-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 n/a 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 $1,213,846 (additional cost) $748,000 $1,623,000 $1,168,000
Capital cost (state & local) $130,849,384 $111,682,526 $93,086,179 $105,312.815
Average increase in capital expenditure tax rate to finance local share of the cost 11.50 per $100 assessed value, which is equivalent to $79 a year on the 'typical' residential property in the district. 9.89 per $100 assessed value, which is equivalent to $68 a year on the 'typical' residential property in the district. 8.23 per $100 assessed value, which is equivalent to $57 a year on the 'typical' residential property in the district. 9.32 per $100 assessed value, which is equivalent to $64 a year on the 'typical' residential property in the district.
When attendance zone boundaries would change --- 2010-11 2010-11 2008-09

capital expenditures tax rate would have to be increased by between 8.23 for each $100 of assessed property value and 9.89 depending upon which option is chosen. The plan he presented to the board and the district sent to DelDOT would require an 11.5 increase.

Co-chair Jeff Bullock stressed that, at this point, the taskforce is dealing with options, not recommendations. "There is an infinite number of scenarios we could come up with," he said. "We won't be recommending until after the public process."

The board has charged the taskforce to present it with at least two options, one of which keeps the present four-tier grade alignment and one which varies from that. As previously reported, a scenario which includes a three-tier alignment which the taskforce early-on seemed to favor was modified to become the third scenario.

After John Read, the district's renovations program manager, said that DelDOE had just begun its formal review of the original plan, it was decided to also put that before the public hearing. Blowman again referred to it as a 'placeholder' and indicated that he doesn't think it has much chance to win state approval, partly because it would result in the district's having a large amount of overcapacity. That has been estimated at between 2,200 and 2,400 student 'seats'.

In another context, Blowman said that it is difficult to speculate on whether state officials, not to mention lawmakers, will agree to allow Brandywood to construct new buildings which would end up providing for more students than projections say the district can expect to enroll during the next several years.

"That certainly will be a subject of conversation with [DelDOE]," he said. "It just makes it a harder sell, but that doesn't mean you can't make the sale."

A key justification for building anew previously presented to the taskforce is that the cost is not significantly greater than renovating and the result is an educationally up-to-date facility as opposed to one which still has some outmoded features.

In advocating that the taskforce not go to the public with a 'favored' option, member Charles Landry said, "If we come up with one, we're going to meet initial resistance."

Although it did not pick a favorite, the taskforce did hear some resistance.

Hanby teacher Jamie Fitzhugh said people associated with that school "feel betrayed" by the idea of closing the school. He said they deferred to Talley Middle when the second phase of the district program went to referendum with the understanding that Hanby would have "our turn" in the third phase.

Taskforce members who had been active with the district at the time said they did not recall any promises in that regard having been made. John Skrobot said there never was a choice made between renovating Hanby or Talley. Those schools are in buildings which are virtually identical architecturally.

Earlier in the session Ed Capodanno, who chairs the taskforce's scope and assessment committee, said his group is looking into the feasibility, under the third scenario, of building a new Brandywood on the Hanby site in Chalfonte.

"No matter what school we decide to close or modify in any way, we're going to hurt somebody's feelings," Landry said. "The various options we are offering are good for the kids and good for the district as a whole."

Tony Prokop argued that closing Hanby would "reopen old wounds." That, he explained, referred to Brandywine's having closed Claymont High School, "which did irreparable damage to [that] community," several years ago. Prokop, a Claymont High alumnus, now teaches at Hanby.

Bus driver Harry Deemer questioned with wisdom of including fifth- and sixth-graders in a middle school. "You're not doing educators or bus drivers justice. We're going to have [discipline] problems," he said.


2004. All rights reserved.

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Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Panel considers a third option for realigning Brandywine schools
Read previous Delaforum article: Extensive school renovation plan presented
Go to taskforce information on the Brandywine district's Web site

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