Meredith, co-chair of the taskforce, said the question to be
answered is straightforward: "What is the district comfortable
planning process involving school officials and community and
business representatives got underway, it was all but a foregone
conclusion that the proposal which will go to the school board
would involve closing one or more of the district's 18 schools.
taskforce's facilities committee did, indeed, come up with a
pair of scenarios that, if adopted, would do just that. One
which keeps the present four-tier grade configuration calls for
shutting down Brandywood Elementary. The other, which eliminates
the intermediate-school tier, fingers Hanby and Springer Middle
Schools. Both call for replacing the Bush Early Childhood Center
with a new building and moving district administrative offices
out of the former school building in Radnor Green.
discussion at a meeting on July 15 clearly indicated that a
simple choice between the plans will not be the final answer.
The four-tier scheme would leave the district with space for
1,800 more youngsters than it expects to have enrolled in the
2009-2010 school year. The three-tier one cuts that to a more
acceptable 850 overage, but virtually all of the extra space
would be in secondary schools with enrollments in some
kindergarten-through-fourth grade elementary schools actually
exceeding their capacity.
closing any building would result in excess capacity of about
2,400 seats when the renovation program is completed.
complication is to be found in the fact that the state
Department of Education's benchmark for helping to finance
school construction work using the 60%-40% formula is $175 a
square foot. Exceeding that guide does not automatically result
in the state rejecting a project and it also is possible, if
referendum voters approve, to make up the difference between
actual cost and state financing with local money, according to
David Blowman, the district's chief financial officer.
Ed Capodano, a construction business professional, said the
guide is unrealistic in light of present-day building costs, it
could drive a decision to replace rather than renovate
Brandywood and-or Lancashire. With estimated costs of $215 or
$218, they are by far the most expensive of all the proposed
projects except for replacing Bush school. Brandywood and
Lancashire are within a mile of each other in northwestern
If it were decided to go to a
three-tier grade configuration with fifth-through-eighth grade
middle schools, a way could be found to get around the dilemma
by making Harlan an elementary school and leaving either Hanby
or Springer open, taskforce members suggested.
Judy Curtis said reducing capacity to
close to present and projected enrollments could be harmful,
especially at the elementary school level, to the district's
state intention to mount an aggressive campaign to attract
students from private schools and from outside the district. She
is the administrator in charge of the district's 'choice'
Superintendent Bruce Harter said that
a just completed marketing survey found that 82% of parents of
children living in the Brandywine district but attending
private, parochial or charter schools profess to be 'satisfied'
or 'very satisfied'. Only about 4% of those surveyed said they
were 'not satisfied' and would consider transferring their
children to a public school.
Although he had just received the
results of the survey by an outside firm and had not fully
reviewed them, he said "a perception of academic quality is at
the top of the list" of reasons why parents opt for nonpublic
Board president Nancy Doorey said
such things as published reports of the Delaware State Testing
Program give a false picture of the Brandywine district's
standing in that regard. Realignment of grade configurations and
attendance areas in the Red Clay and Christina districts, she
said, has resulted in "raising the socio-economic levels" of
some of their schools while "Brandywine has chosen to keep our
integrated schools." She added that, as a result, "we have a
real uphill battle when those reports come out."
Rick Gregg, principal of Brandywine
High, suggested the possibility of housing a theme school with
students from fifth grade through 12th in one of the high school
buildings as a way of absorbing some excess capacity. He pointed
out that the Red Clay district has been successful in doing that
with the Cab Calloway School of the Arts.
Doorey said that adding fourth grade
to the present elementary schools would result in having to
accommodate more classes in the same number of classrooms as now
and that would likely increase class size up to and possibly
beyond the 26 pupils the district considers to be the limit.
Harter said that, when deciding upon
where to move the district headquarters, it would not be
necessary to come up with a single venue. "Other districts have
[administrative offices] in different locations and it works out
well," he said.
Jon Husband, who is an official in
the New Castle County Department of Special Services, said a
review of previously stated cost estimates for facilities
improvements recommended by the athletics and playground
committee found that $2.8 million is a more realistic estimate.
Including construction of an extensive youth sports complex on
the Claymont Intermediate School campus would raise that to $3.8
million, he said. The previously stated estimate was $1 million.