very clear that the move to close schools is premature and
possibly unnecessary. ... It is not a fact that continuing
decline is inevitable or inexorable," said Steve Tanzer, a
resident of Arden who is running for election to the General
Assembly from the district which includes the two schools that
have emerged as the most likely to be closed.
opponent, incumbent representative Wayne Smith, drew the loudest
applause from the approximately 200 attenders at the session on
Sept. 29 after he challenged the assumption that an aging
population in Brandywine Hundred would result in significant
districtwide overcapacity. As present residents move out or pass
on, "people who buy their three- and four-bedroom houses are
going to have kids," he said.
who leads the Republican majority in the state House of
Representatives, also warned against what he said is likely to
happen to the sites of Brandywood Elementary and Hanby Middle
School if either or both of those buildings are demolished.
Delaware Economic Development Office is "on the prowl for larger
sites" at which to locate businesses it attracts, he said.
not an idle threat, he maintained, in view of the fact the
development office attempted to secure the nearby site of the
long-closed Channin school in order to locate an office building
there. Unlike the Channin site, which fronts on Naamans Road,
Hanby and Brandywood are within residential developments. State
agencies, however, apparently are not bound by county zoning
Dougherty, a long-time resident of Chalfonte, where Hanby is
located, testified that, "never in my 40 years [there] have I
seen so many small children." Moreover, he added, there is
potential to increase enrollment by soliciting the large
percentage of families living in the Brandywine district but
sending children to parochial and private schools.
the capacity to serve far more [students]; the question is how
to we get there. ... We need to find out why they are not
sending their kids to Brandywine," said John McClellan, of Foulk
Shenk, who was a member of the school board when it closed
Claymont High a decade ago, testified that she "came out of
retirement" to urge the district's facilities taskforce and the
present board to take another look at population and enrollment
projections in reports the district commissioned from the
University of Delaware.
Superintendent Bruce Harter acknowledged during a Power Point
presentation that there is a fairly wide variance in projected
downward trends in enrollment between now and 2014 in reports
from demographer Edward Ratledge, who heads the university's
Center for Applied Demography. The 2004 report showed a lesser
decline than the one produced in 2003.
Harter said, there is a likelihood that the district will have
as many as 26% more seats than it has students to sit in them by
the out year.
been careful to allow for flexibility. ... If the numbers [in
the U. of Del.] studies are in error, we will not be
short-changed," said Jeff Bullock, co-chair of the facilities
taskforce. He said that even the most drastic of the four
scenarios now under consideration provides 12% overcapacity.
preamble to the hearing, which was held in the Hanby school
auditorium, board president Nancy Doorey said the school board
is "nowhere near a final decision" on what alternative to
pursue. "These are not final proposals; they are tentative" she
also promised the public an additional chance to "register your
input" before the final decision is made. She stopped short of
endorsing an idea put before the taskforce during the early
stages of its deliberations this past summer concerning the
possibility of holding a plebiscite, as was done when the
district was developing its Neighborhood Schools Act plan. But
she did refer to "another round after the [taskforce]
recommendations are finalized."
later in the hearing and in a different context referred to
"whether [the board] pursues one of these scenarios or decides
to go with something else." He also said that the four possible
plans which have been put forward were culled from "more than
100 possible scenarios."
announced procedure is for the taskforce to convene again to
come up with at least two options to present to the board. In
order to get on the track to obtain authorization for state
financing in the capital budget to be adopted by the Assembly in
the spring of 2005, a final plan is due to be submitted to the
Delaware Department of Education by Oct. 30, or possibly two
weeks later if DelDOE grants a requested extension.
member Edward Capodanno warned that putting off for a year the
third and final phase of Brandywine's extensive renovation
program, of which any building closures would be a part, would
result in at least a 3% escalation in its cost. District
residents would have to authorize the sale of bonds to finance
the 40% local share of the cost of the program and a referendum
is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2005 to that end.
is done, Doorey cautioned, "it will be another 20 years before
we have a chance to make significant change to our buildings."
officials on the taskforce sought to ally what appeared at the
hearing to be a main concern -- the number of students in each
classroom. Chief finance officer David Blowman said class size
is a function of enrollment, not the number of buildings and
their size. A state formula determines how many teachers the
district has to spread among its schools, he explained.
we have done will in any way affect class size," Bullock said.
He added that the taskforce is conscious of the need "not to
reduce [any] building size to the point where we don't have
enough classrooms and have to resort to [using] trailers."