class-size law has focused attention and has clearly driven down
class sizes," said David Blowman, the district's chief financial
from top management in the state's third largest public school
district, that runs counter to claims from elsewhere in the
public school establishment that the legislature established the
cap without providing for the state to provide the financing
necessary to achieve it. The law, oddly enough, does permit
district school boards to waive the limits if they are violated.
In practice, a majority of them do.
Brandywine's case, the number of kindergarten-through-third
grade classes with more than 22 students at the end of October,
the annual reporting date, was half what it was a year earlier
-- 19 versus 39. Average class size in those grades throughout
the district was 19.9 children, down from 21 in 2003.
made available to the public at the meeting did not identify the
schools with oversize classes nor give the range of class sizes.
said even fewer classes would have come in under the 22-student
limit had parents been willing to have their child transferred
to a class with fewer than 22. But two months into the academic
year, he said, "it isn't worth the disruption just to make the
numbers look better." Being assigned to a new teacher after
having gotten to know one is upsetting to children, particularly
in the primary grades.
regard to the other component of the law, Brandywine came within
four schools of meeting the requirement that the number of
teachers on their faculties represent at least 98% of the number
of state-authorized positions for which they would qualify under
strict application of the state's student-teacher ratio formula.
The schools are Carrcroft and Mount Pleasant Elementary, and
Claymont and Harlan Intermediate.
and administrator Kim Doherty attributed improvements in
managing class size and assigning teachers to an arrangement
whereby the central office administrators and principals
collaborate on making assignments through a committee which
begins its work in the spring and continues until enrollment
data is on hand after the official headcount is taken in
school board granted a combined waiver by a five-to-one vote
with Thomas Lapinski casting the negative vote because, he said,
he had not been furnished sufficient information prior to the
meeting. Sandra Skelly abstained without stating a reason.
another matter at its business meeting on Nov. 15, the
Brandywine board received preliminary schematic plans for
renovation of Talley Middle and Lombardy Elementary. Those
projects -- the last in the second phase of the district's
three-phase building program -- will begin in the summer of 2005
with completion scheduled in time to reopen the schools for the
2006-07 academic year.
will be housed during the 2005-06 year in the high-rise Burnett
building and Lombardy will make its home in the Mount Pleasant
80% of the work at Talley will involve upgrading the mechanical,
heating, ventilation and plumbing infrastructure, according to
architect Chandra Nilekani, of Anderson Brown Higley Associates.
the necessity for "letting the public see what they're paying
for," she said some of the rest of the budget will go toward
"improving the look of the entire building." John Read, the
district's building projects manager, said Talley, which opened
in 1972, was "designed during a dark period of time in
improvement is a redesign of the entranceway. The relatively
spacious lobby leading into two corridors will be narrowed and
only one corridor will provide access to the rest of the
building. That is not only esthetic, Nilekans explained, but
will contribute significantly to improving security by requiring
anyone entering the building to begin at the front office.
cafeteria will be redesigned to resemble a shopping center food
court and the auditorium, gymnasium and libraries brought up to
present-day standards. Classrooms are to be re-sized and
reconfigured to fit more closely with the current middle school
'team-teaching' approach. They were originally designed in
accord with the former junior high school mode.
that project has increased from $11.4 million for its original
scope in 1997 to $12.2 million in this plan. A 'wish list' of
possible alternatives to be added onto the project if money is
available, would bring the cost to $13.2 million.
separate action at the meeting, the board authorized transfer of
$250,000 from the budget for the Talley project to the nearly
completed Concord High project. That will pay for additional
asbestos removal and replacement of a deteriorated ceiling in
the auditorium which were found to be necessary during
Craig Gilbert, who is the board's liaison with the district's
volunteer renovations oversight committee, assured his
colleagues that, after reallocating that money, the Talley
project will fulfill "all the commitments made at the time of
the referendum" at which voters authorized its financing. The
committee, he said, approved the switch.
he could not "absolutely guarantee" that the Talley construction
budget will cover all possibilities which may arise during
construction. But he noted that the budget has a built-in 15%
contingency fund and said that should be sufficient to deal with
overruns, barring a major surprise.
significant feature of the Lombardy plan is a 6,000-square-foot
addition at the rear of the existing 43,500-square-foot
building. It will replace two modular classroom units which have
been used for the past several years.
present building, according to architect Ronald Osborne, of
J.A.E.D. Architects & Engineers, would not be large enough to
accommodate the school's 400 student enrollment while permitting
improvements to instructional areas to meet current standards.
the plan does not include site work such as enlarging the
driveway approach to the building, which sits will back off
Foulk Road. "The task is to do the building. If money is
available, we will look at the site," he said. Gilbert said the
budget for that project "is extremely tight."
cost, including a 10% contingency fund, is $5.5 million. There
also is a 'wish list', which includes landscaping and an
entrance canopy, that totals $561,000.
school board will be asked to approve final designs for the two
schools in January and for the projects to be put out for bid in
the meeting, the board confronted a contentious issue --
observance of religious holidays -- and decided to deal with it
with a new 'procedure' in lieu of a formal 'policy'.
arose after district officials ordered the Mount Pleasant High
band not to participate in a regional competition that was held
on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Parents and the
school's band-boosters association complained that the order
came at the last minute, was inconsistent with practices in past
years and at other district schools, and deprived 40 student
band members of an opportunity for recognition to accommodate
three students desiring to observe the holy day. There has been
no indication that neither the three students nor their parents
asked for the cancellation.
Cooper, the district's lawyer, said the Brandywine has required
that academic requirements and extracurricular events not
conflict with Yom Kippur and the Jewish New Year since it was
established in 1981 and that that was done in response to a
request from a Jewish organization. She acknowledged that
honoring the high holy days has not been consistent over the
years and has varied among schools. For reasons that have not
been publicly explained, schools were specifically reminded of
the arrangement this year.
that, as far as she can tell, no other group has ever asked for
such consideration. If any did, "we [would] attempt to be
reasonable to accommodate [the request]," she said. She said two
Christian feasts, Christmas and Good Friday, are observed by
closing schools but said that is done because those have been
designated as state holidays.
vice president Joseph Brumskill said that, since the original
request was accepted, there has been a significant expansion of
population diversity and suggested that it would likely be
impractical or impractical to accommodate "all the religions and
sects that now live among us." He wondered how many different
ones are represented among Brandywine students.
without saying that we can't honor so many requests that we
can't run the district as it should be," Cooper said.
said that the matter could best be dealt with through the
district's existing student code of conduct. That provides for
excused absences for legitimate reasons, including religious
observances, and guarantees students reasonable latitude in
making up missed academic work, he noted. Board president Nancy
Doorey said religion-related absences should be handled like
"any other observances that are important to a family."
superintendent Tammy Davis presented a draft 'procedure' which
avoids dealing with non-scheduling of events beyond noting that
"important happenings" should not be scheduled on days when it
can be expected that "a large number of students may be absent
from school," irrespective of the reason. It also calls for
teachers and administrators to "exercise sensitivity and
flexibility in resolving" apparent conflicts with religious
also referred to the state Department of Education a request
that a student who lives just shy of the two-miles-away
requirement to qualify for school bus transportation be
considered to have an 'unique-hazards' situation and be
permitted to ride. In that case, the 'direct route' by which the
law said to measure traveling distance requires walking through
two county parks in the early morning and late afternoon. The
student's parents do not permit her to take that route and
walking along major roads to reach Brandywine High is a
considerably longer route.