how it is going to end up. No way in hell they're going to
change the grade configuration," Jeff Bullock declared after the
taskforce voted unanimously to recommend a modified version of
the $130.8 million plan the board approved on a preliminary
basis in June with the tacit understanding that its submission
was intended only to put Brandywine in line for state financing
in the fiscal 2006 capital budget.
at three public hearings was strongly supportive of retaining
the four-tier grade configuration with which Brandywine has been
operating since the district was formed in the early 1980s. That
scheme was devised in compliance with the federal court
desegregation order to assure that children who live in the city
of Wilmington attend school in the city for at least three
it would implicitly require that all existing schools retain
their present function since closing any would result in
larger-than-desirable enrollments at one or more of those that
to fulfill its mandate to provide the board with at least two
proposals, the taskforce by a 15-to-2 vote after considerably
less discussion decided to also recommend a controversial plan
that would close two schools and replace two with new ones.
the 34-member taskforce attended the meeting on Oct. 5 at which
the votes were taken. Bullock said that the meeting had been
"called on short notice" and that several members, including
co-chair Barbara Meredith, had conflicting obligations.
plans which now will go to the board call for closing Bush Early
Education Center, demolishing its building in Talleyville and
moving its program intact to another school building where it
would be an independent entity. That provision was included
although the taskforce was told that Brandywine is under state
and federal orders to reduce the number of children with
disabilities that it educates in 'restrictive settings'.
second proposal, which had been presented to the public as
'Scenario D' and drew the most objections at a series of public
hearings, bucks a choice between closing Hanby or Springer
Middle School to the board while calling for replacing both
Lancashire and Brandywood Elementary with new buildings.
Brandywood was listed for closure in 'Scenario C'.
Capodanno, who chaired the taskforce committee which evaluated
the buildings in line for inclusion in the third and final phase
of Brandywine's long-term renovation program, objected to
straddling the issue. A repolling of the committee, he said,
found that it remains unanimously in favor of closing Hanby.
"Our committee stands by that recommendation, whether it is a
popular one or not," he said.
estimates are yet available to go with the options although it
was said that moving the Bush program to an existing school
building would require about $1 million worth of renovations,
compared to $6 million that it would cost to replace Bush with a
new building, as had been initially proposed.
recommendations now go to the school board, which has scheduled
a meeting preceded by a public hearing to consider them. That
session will be on Oct. 14 at Mount Pleasant Elementary School,
beginning at 7 p.m. It is uncertain whether the board will
decide then which plan to send to DelDOE. The deadline for
submitting a proposal for inclusion in the fiscal 2006 state
budget is Oct. 29, although superintendent Bruce Harter has said
a two-week extension is a possibility.
taskforce's recommendations are advisory and there is an
expectation that the Brandywine board will at least 'tweak'
them. Beyond that, submitting a plan to DelDOE is by no means
tantamount to approval by state officials. Constructing one or
two new buildings, as the taskforce is recommending, is likely
to come under close scrutiny since the district expects to end
up with at least 12% more capacity than students when the work
is finished in the 2008-2009 academic year. Renovations project
manager John Read and Capodanno's committee have both said that
new construction is justified as more cost-effective than
approval also is conditioned upon residents authorizing the
borrowing of the district's 40% share of the cost. The board has
tentatively scheduled a referendum for the spring of 2005 to
seek that approval.
As it now
stands, the primary recommendation calls for closing Bush and
relocating its program; replacing Brandywood and Lancashire;
renovating Hanby, Springer and P.S. du Pont Intermediate;
closing the district's administrative headquarters; and
establishing a new bus depot by the time the lease on the
present one runs out in 2011 and studying the feasibility of
'outsourcing' some student transportation. The district offices
would be relocated to one or more schools with that choice
dependent upon where it would be most logical to absorb excess
suggested that the new Lancashire and Harlan Intermediate might
swap roles with Lancashire serving the intermediate fourth,
fifth and sixth grades and Harlan being reconfigured for
kindergarten through third grade. The taskforce did not take up
that idea on the grounds that it had not been offered prior to
the public hearings.
alternative option would provide for a three-tier grade
configuration with Harlan Intermediate becoming an elementary
school and a renovated P.S. and Claymont Intermediate becoming
middle schools; closing Hanby or Springer and renovating the one
that is not closed; closing the administrative headquarters; and
establishing a new bus depot.
that reverting to pre-desegration kindergarten-through-sixth
grade elementary schools would not work because "we're a
district with a lot of tiny buildings." Although they were
designed to accommodate that configuration "education is
different now" in terms of the number of specialists and
ancillary functions that have to be housed in the buildings, he
said. There also are fewer school buildings in the geographic
area which the district now serves.
of both options, the taskforce is recommending that vacated
buildings be town down but that the district keep the land upon
which they stood for possible future use. What happened with
Channin school was cited as an example of both what not to do
and what to do. Since it was closed in the late 1970s, the all
but totally neglected building has become a derelict. It is now
planned to finally tear it down and lease the land to New Castle
County government which, in turn, will make it available to a
youth sports league.
Landry, who represents the Council of Civic Organizations of
Brandywine Hundred on the taskforce, said it would only be
natural for residents to object to "leaving a hulk in [their]
neighborhood." Nor is it likely, he added, that any community
would support either commercial or residential development of
the sites. In particular, he said, People who live in Sharpley,
as he does, would strenuously oppose selling the Bush site
although "any developer would pay top dollar to get that piece
of land" on Concord Pike.
to assure the community that, in the end, the [vacant] land is
going to be protected, that it is not going to be developed," he
said. "If any community objects to redevelopment of the
property, we (the area civic association) are going to go in and
help that community."
happens with the vacated property will most likely be decided by
the state legislature, Bullock said. That was the case with both
the Channin property and the district's other derelict building,
the former Old Mill Lane school.
Hilkert, the district's director of special programs, told the
taskforce that Bush's future clouds that issue about what to do
with its program. She said federal education authorities have
ordered Delaware to provide more 'inclusion' for children with
special needs in regular schools and DelDOE, in turn, has
ordered Brandywine and four other districts to do so.
Brandywine, she said, already has a plan to move kindergarteners
from Bush into regular schools, irrespective of what will emerge
in the way of a facilities plan.
testimony regarding Bush at the public hearings strongly favored
keeping the program intact wherever it is placed, Hilkert said,
"We have parents you didn't hear from [who] don't want their
children excluded [from regular schools]."
said that 455 people attended the three public hearings, 243
asked questions and 203 expressed opinions, either orally or in
writing. There are 47,000 residences in the district. That
brought up the question of how representative testimony at the
hearings should be considered vis-à-vis obtaining voter support
at the referendum for the plan that emerges.
not be so focused on trying to pick a winner that we
short-change the public," Landry said. "We knew that [Scenarios]
'C' and 'D' would not be popular," Capodanno added. Bullock said
"no one [at the hearings] made a compelling argument that 'C'
and 'D' [would not] work for educational reasons."
Maffia, vice president of Tetra Tech Inc., said that the
taskforce's obligation was to recommend the plan which best uses
the district's resources. "If we're going to close a school,
[the decision] should not be emotional; it should be practical,"
he said. Otherwise, he added, "it's like leaving the lights on
and the water running all the time."
Geisenberger, who is Delaware's assistant secretary of state,
said that practicality works both ways. Getting voter support
for a renovation plan at the referendum "is the important
thing," he said. "If we come out with a scenario that supports
closing Hanby, people are going to say we didn't listen to a
thing they said."
Struck, a retired school administrator in other districts,
disputed the validity of projections of declining enrollment,
which were advanced as the basis for possibly closing schools.
He said that he is "seeing more young families with young
children" moving into Brandywine Hundred as older people retire
and move out. Enrollment in Trinity Lutheran Church's pre-school
"is at an all-time high," he said.
argued however, that the taskforce's consideration was guided by
projections from a professional demographer. "That is the best
kind of study that's available," he said. "We would be making a
big mistake using anecdotal evidence when it comes to spending