closing schools and you're certain to draw a crowd. Brandywine
superintendent Jim Scanlon has been talking about that for
several weeks and, sure enough, about 85 district residents and
staff members turned out for the first in a series of meetings
planned to determine which ones will be targeted.
Scanlon told them that the school
board will make a final decision in February or March of 2008,
but actual closure will not happen until September, 2009, a year
later than previously discussed. Time is needed for orderly
planning and closing in 2008 would be "unfair," he said.
More to the point, he narrowed
the field of likely closure candidates by declaring that no
building that has been renovated since 2000 should be on the
list. Carrcroft, Darley Road and Maple Lane Elementary and
Brandywine and Mount Pleasant High were renovated in the 1990s.
Brandywood and Lancashire Elementary and Hanby and
Springer Middle have not yet taken their turn in the third and
final phase of the district renovation program, but
architectural and engineering contracts have been let for the
Lancashire and Springer projects.
Scanlon also set a goal of
reducing excess districtwide capacity "by at least 50%" and said
changing the district's four-tier grade configuration is an
option. But, he added, maintaining "economic diversity" --
defined as no fewer than 20% nor more than 50% of the students
in any school receiving free or reduced-price lunches -- is a
requirement when drawing new attendance zones.
The meeting on Sept. 4 was called
to form a volunteer committee of people who have expressed
interest in helping to formulate the closure plan. It was
referred to both as the School Consolidation Committee and the
Space Consolidation Committee.
preliminary work will be done by
two subcommittees -- one to address "educational best practices"
and the other facilities and sites. He said they would have
eight and 12 members, respectively, but later said he had no
problem with accepting a suggestion by a couple of attenders
that they have at least 16 to provide broader community
representation. He said they will not be "top-heavy" with
Those at the meeting interested
in serving on either of the subcommittees were asked to list
their names. The district administration will appoint the
members. Their meetings will be announced and open to the public
as will those of the full assemblage, Scanlon said. "We want
this to be an open process."
"We're about to begin a really
crucial journey for this community and its children," he added.
Board president Joseph Brumskill
echoed the superintendent, calling arriving at the closure
decision "one of the most important undertakings this district
has ever taken." He added that it is not just a matter for the
school board to decide but requires extensive "community input."
Scanlon said that on the meeting
date the district had 10,368 students on its rolls, down from an
official count of 10,406 last year but considerably higher than
the 10,095 projected when the board recently approved the
preliminary fiscal 2008 budget.
Districtwide capacity is rated by
the district at 13,084 while the Delaware Department of
Education formula puts it at slightly more than 14,000. The
district figure is based on the number of students who can be
reasonably accommodated in its instructional programs. The
DelDOE figure, Scanlon said, unrealistically assumes "we use
every classroom every period."
A University of Delaware
projection foresees a continued decline in enrollment -- to
9,700 in 2014, Scanlon said. An aging population in the
Brandywine district's geographical area and a shift southward in
the county and the state of younger families with school-age
children are responsible, he explained.
On the other hand, relatively low
taxes and other factors make northern New Castle County
"attractive to senior citizens not likely to vote increases in
taxes to [finance] schools," Scanlon said. "It is cost effective
and educationally sound to close schools."
In response to questions from and
points raised by attenders, Scanlon said:
• Class sizes are not likely to
grow as a result of having fewer schools. Existing programs also
will be maintained "although they may be [provided] in a
• The number of teaching jobs
will not be affected as they are based on overall enrollment;
normal attrition is expected to take care of secretarial,
custodial and other staff positions eliminated by closing
• Enrollment projections take
into account the coming of full-day tuition-free kindergarten
and assume a continuation of the two-to-one ratio of students
choicing into and out of Brandywine.
• Closure of Bush Early Learning
Center and the central office building in Radnor Green are
already givens for the plan to be adopted and the Burnett
high-rise building in north Wilmington "will not be a school
building anymore" after it no longer is required as a 'holding
school' for schools being renovated.
• Constructing a new building to
replace the Lancashire building -- and possibly one to replace
Brandywood -- is economically justifiable as one-time expenses
while school closure addresses continuing operating costs.
• School closure will have no
bearing on restructuring plans being prepared for Brandywine
High, Talley Middle and P.S. du Pont Intermediate in response to
their federal No Child Left Behind Act ratings.
• Use or disposal of the sites of
closed schools will be determined by state law and regulations
within which the school district has little discretion.