of the board's seven members participating in the discussion, it
appeared almost certain that, barring an unforeseen shift in
current thinking, the panel is headed toward opting for the
so-called 'Scenario A'. That option would retain the current
four-tier grade configuration and not close any conventional
school but replace the Brandywood and Lancashire Elementary
buildings with new ones.
on handing up a proposal to the Delaware Department of Education
for inclusion in the state capital fiscal 2006 spending plan to
be enacted by the General Assembly was scheduled to be taken at
a special meeting on Nov. 8.
matters before its monthly business session on Oct. 18, the
Ratified a new labor contract which
gives teachers a 3% increase in the district's share of their
salaries this academic year and pay raises of 4% in each of the
next two years.
● Approved giving
families of children living within the geographic bounds of the
district an extra month during which to apply to attend a
district school other than the one serving their attendance
Repeating his previous
contention that the nearly 500 comments voiced at four public
hearings or sent by mail or e.mail were not necessarily an
accurate representation of community sentiment, board member
Craig Gilbert entered a motion to authorize a nonbinding
plebiscite. It was defeated by a six-to-one vote.
"There are many in the community who
don't feel comfortable speaking in a public forum," Gilbert
said. "I don't see the downside" of allowing them to express
their preference through an anonymous vote.
David Adkins said that giving an
opinion "did not require standing up before a hostile audience"
at the public hearings and, in fact, most of the ones received
did not come in that way. "The community had ample opportunity
to respond. Personally, I don't need any more information," he
said, adding that he is "quite content to vote [for] 'Scenario
Joseph Brumskill, vice president of
the board, said no one who chose not to participate could
complain that "power has been taken away from them."
After Mark Huxsoll declared "it's
time to move on" and allow the district administration to
"concentrate on educating," the board appeared ready to take an
immediate vote. Thomas Lapinski, however, reined in his
colleagues by noting that he did not "see anything on the
[meeting] agenda about taking a vote."
The state's open-meeting law
covering public agencies like school boards requires advance
posting of an agenda, although that requirement can be bypassed
in supposedly unusual circumstances and, in practice, that is
often done. The Brandywine board, in fact, added two unrelated
items to the agenda and acted upon them later in the meeting.
Board president Nancy Doorey, who
previously indicated that she also favors 'Scenario A', noted
that district residents in 1997and 2001 expressed a clear
preference for keeping the kindergarten-through-third grade,
fourth-through-sixth, seventh and eighth, and ninth-through-12th
alignment. "It's (opinion is) breaking out with the same kind of
percentages for the third time."
Although she said she thinks
additional polling "would be superfluous," superintendent Bruce
Harter said, after the board agreed on the Nov. 8 meeting date,
that the administration will make a mailing to all 47,000
residential addresses requesting response "to make sure we left
no stone unturned."
Board member Sandra Skelly did not
participate in the facilities discussion.
Submission of a plan to DelDOE does
not guarantee its acceptance and some observers have expressed
doubt that state education officials and legislators will buy
into a proposal which involves construction of new buildings
when they district will be left with at least 12% overcapacity
if demographic projections by the Population Consortium at the
University of Delaware turn out to be accurate.
The board voted unanimously and
without significant public discussion to ratify the teachers
contract after being told that members of the Brandywine
Education Association, the union, had done so earlier in the
The only detail concerning the pact
that was publicly disclosed before the vote was that it will cost the district an additional $2,464,049 in
local spending over the next three years.
The local-money share of the
district's $105 million operating budget is about $45 million.
Salaries, benefits and other employment costs make up by far the
largest share of that spending. The state pays about 70% of the
salaries for authorized teaching and other positions.
After the meeting, Harter told
Delaforum that the new contract "keeps us in a position where we
can by competitive" with other districts when it comes to
attracting good teachers. That is one of the key objectives in
the district's strategic plan, he said. He added that Brandywine
"will never be able to pay [as much as] some Pennsylvania
districts," but is a leader among Delaware districts and is "catching up with
Pennsylvania and New Jersey."
He provided a copy of the
just-approved contract and of a summary of changes from the
previous one that had been published by the union for its
Those documents show what Harter described as
"a slight ratcheting up of benefits" which he said "moves
teachers' benefits up to the same level" as those of some other
Brandywine employees. There are 2% increases in pay for taking on extra
duties in each of the next two academic years. The deadline for
a teacher to request a voluntary transfer is advanced to July 15
from Aug. 15, which Harter said will facilitate staffing prior
to the start of the academic year.
There also is a provision limiting
the authority to change student grades to the superintendent and
the teacher. Previously that could be done by a principal. The
bonus for notifying the administration of plans to retire was
doubled to $1,000, but such notification will not be required
before Jan. 1 instead of before Feb. 1. A new provision bars
requiring a teacher to teach more than five class periods in
A new article insets into the
contract a previous agreement concerning assignments to,
transfers from and other working condition provisions applying
to Maple Lane Elementary and any other school that laters
adopt a year-around 'balanced calendar'.
The previous contract expired on
Aug. 31. Negotiations on a new one began in March and agreement
was not reached until Oct. 5. Harter said that was because there
was what amounted to a complete revision this year and
"scheduling issues got in the way." He said that, at one point,
consideration was given to employing the services of a
professional mediator, but that was not done and "there was
never any breakdown in bargaining."
Margery Windolph, the union's lead
negotiator, joined administrator Kim Doherty to formally present
a recommendation to board to ratify the contract, but did not
speak. Huxsoll congratulated them for "working together" to
reach a settlement. Gilbert did likewise for the "very creative
language [they] put into the contract."
In the past, details of the contract
were not made available until several days after ratification
and required submission of a request under the state's Freedom
of Information Act to obtain. Delaforum in July filed a
complaint with the attorney general seeking to have information
about the new contract made public before the board voted to
ratify it and to require consideration of doing so in public
rather than in a closed-door executive session, as had been done
in the past. The complaint was based on the significance of the
contract relative to the district's spending of local tax money.
On Oct. 6, Delaforum was advised by
the attorney general's office that a ruling would be made prior
to the Oct. 18 meeting, but as far as can be determined, none
A new procedure covering use of the
state's public school choice law was adopted, providing for
opening a second application period during the month of May. The
law sets the second Wednesday in January as the deadline for
applying except when that cannot be done for a "good cause."
Applications will be accepted in May
only from district residents. The November-to-January period is
open also to residents of other districts.
Administrator Tom Alderson said
providing additional time is intended, at least partly, to
offset Brandywine's strict interpretation of 'good cause'.
"Other districts use [that provision] as carte blanch to
do what they want to do" about extending availability of the
Huxsoll expressed a concern because
"small and inconsequential things or rumors can trigger a mass
exodus" from a particular school. Alderson said that 'choice'
would be available only if enrollment in the proposed receiving
school has not reached 95% of capacity and that 'choice'
placements for those applying before the January deadline would
have already been made.
Doorey said the fact that the
procedures have to be adopted annually has the effect of making
it a one-year trial of this year's procedure, which was approved
by a four-to-two vote. Huxsoll and Lapinski voted against
approval and Skelly abstained from voting.
The off-agenda items were
authorization of an executive director position for the
educational foundation the district is establishing, and
approval to give formal notice of an intention to withdraw from
the consortium supporting the Data Service Center, effective on
June 30, 2006. Harter told the board that the Christina district
is withdrawing and that Brandywine use of the mainframe computer
system "will be greatly diminished" when it begins using a new