PARTICIPATION SOUGHT: Brandywine School District is inviting residents to join the committee charged with recommending a plan for closing some school buildings. "The district must make the closures in a responsible, well-studied way and must involve community members and parents in the development of a plan," superintendent James Scanlon said in a public statement. The committee will convene on Sept. 4 and is due to report in May, 2008. The district has room in its schools for about 1,400 children, but enrollment is just over 10,000 and expected to decline to about 9,600 by 2014, he said. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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FINAL SAY: Delaware Supreme Court evidently has closed the book on the saga of the stone wall. It ruled that the Board of Adjustment had proper jurisdiction when it overturned an order by land use general manager Charles Baker directing Edgewood Village l.l.c., an affiliate of Pettinaro Construction, to restore the wall in the Paladin Club condominium community it partly demolished in early 2005. Baker said the wall was historic although the department's historic preservation section earlier had decided it wasn't. The court ruled against a group of residents who said the appeal should have been made to the Planning Board. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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County Council by its narrowest margin enacted an ordinance eliminating the requirement that the Department of Land Use advertise public hearings in community newspapers.
Joseph Amon, publisher of Community News, testified before the seven-to-six vote on July 24 that the move would deprive "close to 200,000 readers," who depend upon the publication's five zoned editions as their best source for "fair and balanced" local news, of information that is important to them. He implied that the ordinance was one of "many attempts to influence the printed word." Councilman George Smiley, who sponsored the ordinance, replied that it "is not retaliatory legislation in any way." He said that its intent is to save county government $172,000 a year in light of its budget problems.
He said he was not against press coverage. "As much as I hate to say it, we'll still support the News Journal," he said. State law requires that paid-for legal notices be published in a newspaper of general circulation. Councilman Bill Bell said he was surprised to learn that the department did not provide for that spending in its fiscal 2008 budget. "If it's not in their budget, haven't they already decided it" before Council acted, he said. Smiley said the money was not budgeted because the county administration assumed that since Council had cut its own legal-notices requirements "we would not be doing less" for the department. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
Voting in favor of the ordinance were: Smiley, Council president Paul Clark, Penrose Hollins, Joseph Reda, Timothy Sheldon, Jea Street and David Tackett. Opposed were: Bell, John Cartier, Stephanie McClellan, William Powers, William Tansey and Robert Weiner.
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PLAN APPROVED: County Council on July 24 unanimously approved an updated comprehensive plan which significantly changes the approach to land use and development in New Castle County during at least the next five years. "It's a vision. The next step is crafting implementation strategy to make it a reality," said Council president Paul Clark. Councilman Robert Weiner described the plan represents "a transition from a sprawl comprehensive plan to a smart-growth comprehensive plan." David Tackett called it "the most scrutinized document ever to go through any Council." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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REZONING SOUGHT: Legislation to rezone the 17-acre Holy Rosary church and school campus to permit American College to develop a portion of it was introduced into County Council by Councilman John Cartier on July 24. Council will vote on it after the Planning Board holds a public hearing and makes a recommendation. In another matter involving Claymont, Council unanimously approved a measure appropriating $60,000 received from the Delaware Land & Water Conservation Fund to finance improvements to the driveway, signage and landscaping at Woodshaven-Kruse park. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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The state's student-testing program is meant to measure students' performance against standards, not against their counterparts in other districts, James Scanlon said.
Commenting on just-published 2007 results, the Brandywine superintendent told the school board that they show continuation of measurable progress during the past six years. "It doesn't matter what other school districts are doing; it matters what we're doing here in Brandywine," he said at the board meeting on July 23. "The big challenge now is how do we get to the next level." Third- and fifth-grade scores "started high [in 2002] and have stayed high," Scanlon said. Middle schools are "relatively high ... with modest gains" over that time period. High-school scores "started out at a low point and have made significant gains."
He said the annual testing produces objective data with which to measure both trends and individual performance. "We have to make sure we're using the data to make individual students grow," he said. "We have to believe that all kids can learn. We have to set high expectations for all students if we want our kids to meet high standards. ... We need to provide professional development for our teachers to make that happen." Noting that Brandywine originally outpaced state averages on the tests, board member Debra Heffernan said that shows "the [rest of the] state has caught up with Brandywine." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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CONTROVERSIAL TRANSFER: Over the vehement objections of several Harlan Intermediate School teachers and some parents, the Brandywine school board confirmed the appointment of Lincoln Hohler to be principal of P.S. du Pont Intermediate. Former Harlan principal Anita Thorpe was brought out of retirement to succeed Hohler in that position in an acting capacity while a permanent successor is sought. The moves were necessitated by the unexpected resignation of P.S. principal Kenneth Goodwin. The Harlan delegation argued that 14 years as a popular teacher and administrator has made Hohler a virtual fixture at that school.
Although he said he appreciated their sentiments, James Scanlon said that "as superintendent, I'm looking out for the entire school system." With P.S. about the spend the coming academic year in the Burnett building while its north Wilmington building is renovated, there is need for "a strong leader to help us with that [and] Linc Hohler is the best person to do that." As spokesperson for the delegation, Leeanne Henretty, a parent, protested against the board's accepting Scanlon's recommendation without open discussion and evidently agreeing to it during a closed-door executive session before the public meeting.
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REJECTION: Delaware Department of Transportation has rejected a proposal to designate Philadelphia Pike as an historic highway, Delaforum has learned. In a previously unpublicized early-June letter to County Executive Christopher Coons, Maria Andaya, manager of DelDOT's scenic and historic highways program, said that, although the road has retained its original alignment since colonial days, it lacks "a special intrinsic quality" deemed necessary "to provide a [sic] unique travel experience to residents and visitors." The decision, she said, "proved to be difficult," requiring more than two hours of discussion by the evaluation committee.
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REPORT CARD: Brandywine results generally followed the pattern of other school districts in this year's state assessment testing with a slight gain in reading, a decline in mathematics and significant improvement in writing. In reading, 79.9% of Brandywine students in grades two through 10 met or exceeded state standards, up from 79.2% last year. The proportion in math fell from 71.4% in 2006 to 71%. The bigger gain was in writing, where 70.6% came up to the standards this year, compared to 66.8% last year. Statewide, 80.5% met or exceeded standards in reading; 69.3% in math; and 65.7% in writing.
Percentage of Brandywine district students meeting or exceeding state standards:
SOURCE: Delaware Department of Education
How schools fared in their respective key grades:
3rd grade reading
3rd grade mathematics
|3rd grade writing|
|Forwood||71.43||66.67||7.1%||Maple Lane||63.16||82.19||-23.2%||Darley Road||57.14||34.78||64.3%|
|Darley Road||63.64||50.75||25.4%||Darley Road||61.22||56.34||8.7%||Maple Lane||55.36||61.64||-10.2%|
|5th grade reading||5th grade mathematics||5th grade writing|
|P.S. du Pont||77.83||76.81||1.3%||P.S. du Pont||75.23||74.80||0.6%||P.S. du Pont||61.29||51.85||18.2%|
|8th grade reading||8th grade mathematics||8th grade writing|
|10th grade reading||10th grade mathematics||10th grade writing|
|Mt. Pleasant||68.81||66.36||3.7%||Mt. Pleasant||50.99||50.00||2.0%||Mt. Pleasant||57.71||73.15||-21.1%|
|SOURCE: Delaware Department of Education|
How Brandywine compared to other districts:
|Indian River||90.15||Smyrna||86.39||Caesar Rodney||79.06|
|Christina||82.81||Lake Forest||80.94||Indian River||74.54|
|Cape Henlopen||79.38||BRANDYWINE||76.36||Cape Henlopen||64.41|
|Red Clay||77.01||Colonial||70.67||Red Clay||53.35|
|Milford||94.53||Indian River||90.33||Indian River||74.26|
|Indian River||92.36||Milford||86.27||Caesar Rodney||73.01|
|Cape Henlopen||87.34||Cape Henlopen||81.20||Cape Henlopen||62.11|
|Lake Forest||87.29||Lake Forest||79.39||Christina||60.25|
|Seaford||81.86||Red Clay||71.67||Lake Forest||54.57|
|Caesar Rodney||91.94||Indian River||75.59||Appoquinimink||87.67|
|Indian River||91.31||Lake Forest||74.14||Caesar Rodney||87.56|
|Red Clay||81.49||Red Clay||62.93||Capital||77.19|
|NCC Votech||52.17||NCC Votech||7.69||NCC Votech||56.00|
|Sussex Technical||90.22||Sussex Technical||75.70||Sussex Technical||75.00|
|Milford||83.41||Caesar Rodney||69.84||Red Clay||73.75|
|Delmar||81.69||Red Clay||66.56||Caesar Rodney||73.12|
|Red Clay||77.76||BRANDYWINE||61.49||NCC Votech||70.12|
|Cape Henlopen||75.11||Indian River||60.94||Milford||64.71|
|Lake Forest||63.82||Lake Forest||44.50||Smyrna||56.43|
|SOURCE: Delaware Department of Education|
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SIGN DECISION: Faced with an apparent irresolvable conflict between two key elements of the Claymont
renaissance, the community Design Review Advisory Committee opted in favor of enforcing design standards over supporting new businesses. At issue was signage to reflect acquisition of the former Eckerd drug store in Town & Country Shopping Center at Philadelphia Pike and Harvey Road by the Rite Aid chain. Michael Millikin, of American Sign & Graphics, sought waivers from the requirement that when signs are replaced the new ones conform to hometown zoning design standards.
The committee decided at a meeting on July 19 to uphold a signage guidelines provision that replacing any portion of the pylon sign facing the pike requires that the entire pylon be brought into conformity. Millikin said it is doubtful that Rite Aid, which is a tenant in, not the owner of, the shopping center, would pay the cost of doing that. Moreover, he said, not being able to advertise its presence would likely put a damper on business and that could lead to the company deciding to close the store. The company could seek a hardship variance from hometown zoning requirements from the Board of Adjustment.
|The shopping center's non-conforming pylon|
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CORRECTION: County Council will not vote on a proposed ordinance providing hometown zoning for Centreville at its session on July 24 as Delaforum previously reported. Before Council can act, the ordinance must go before the Department of Land Use and Planning Board for recommendations. The Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing on the ordinance on Aug. 7. It is likely to go before Council in late September or early October. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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Natural resources secretary John Hughes is all for such things as developing alternative fuels and stemming climate change -- but evidently not in his backyard.
He told a 'town meeting' on energy conservation that he rejected a plan to replace the abandoned General Chemical plant in the industrial area north of Claymont with one to produce ethanol because it would violate the Coastal Zone Act. "That's a sacred body of law [and] I'm not inclined to tinker with it," he said. After James Wolfe, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, said the business lobby is about launch an effort to repeal the state law effectively banning incineration of trash, Hughes said that measure "is also sacred" and that burning "technology has to go well beyond where it is now" before he'll favor changing it.
At the session on July 18 sponsored by Conoco Phillips and the Delaware Public Policy Institute, James Mulva, the company's president, called for elevating the discussion to "a higher level instead of blaming each other" to develop a national energy policy which enables private enterprise "to produce energy at a reasonable cost and do it in an environmentally-sensitive way." Wolfe cited lack of leadership by federal government and called for the public to demand "an understandable and workable national energy strategy." There is need, he added, to recognize that "there is no [energy] cheaper and cleaner than [what] you don't use."
Hughes suggested using existing technology to set the price of fuel commensurate with the energy-efficiency of the vehicle into which it is pumped.
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OUT OF THE LOOP: The Department of Land Use will stop advertising public hearings in weekly community newspapers and give all its business to the Saturday edition of the News-Journal if County Council, as expected, enacts a pending ordinance. Councilman George Smiley, sponsor of the measure, told a committee meeting on July 17 that county government needs to save money and the News Journal "is the only publication available" to residents in all parts of the county. State law requires that public hearings be advertised in a newspaper of general circulation.
Smiley and Council president Paul Clark said that notices of Planning Board and Board of Adjustment proceedings are publicized on the county website, on signs developers are required to put up at project sites and in letters sent to residences in the immediate vicinity of the property that is involved. Councilwoman Stephanie McClellan said she and her constituents are more likely to see a paid ad in the Newark Post and William Powers said the area he represents relies on the Middletown Transcript for local information. Clark argued that nothing prohibits those publications from publishing hearing notices without being paid to do so.
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CANDIDATES: Three persons have applied to fill the vacancy on the Brandywine school board, according to superintendent James Scanlon. He did not identify them. The district had advertised the opening, created by the resignation of Nancy Doorey, for two weeks in the News Journal newspaper and on its website, he said. The deadline to apply was July 13. The board will interview the candidates and probably decide at its August meeting which one to seat. State law provides that whoever it is will have to face election in May, 2008, to serve the remainder of Doorey's term, which expires June 30, 2009.
In another matter, Scanlon said the central administrative position of supervisor of the International Baccalaureate program and advanced placement has been eliminated and its incumbent, Greg Robinson, has been reassigned to an administrative vacancy at P.S. du Pont Intermediate School created by a retirement. Scanlon said the vacant assistant superintendent position also has been eliminated. The district, he said, will not hire a replacement for Robert Ziegler, who resigned as public information officer, effective June 30, before the end of 2007. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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The final -- and most critical -- move into the county's new public safety headquarters will be as seamless a transition as it's possible to make it, department officials promised.
The 9-1-1 center will be relocated to its state-of-the-art facility during the early-morning hours of July 18, but any resident who has reason to call the emergency number during the three to four hours the transition is expected to take will experience normal service, they said. "We'll be live through the whole operation. There will never be a time when 9-1-1 calls will not be answered," David Roberts, chief of emergency communications, told County Council's public safety committee on July 10. "We cannot err in what we are doing," Ernest Frazier, director of public safety, said.
Both men described the move plan as a matter of piling redundancy on top of redundancy. Telephone calls will be automatically routed to county operators temporarily based in the city of Wilmington's emergency center and police and paramedics will be dispatched from the county's mobile command post. Meanwhile, an augmented technical staff will supervise startup of the new sophisticated telephone and computer systems and thoroughly test them before figuratively flicking the switch to turn them on. Pre-move testing already performed indicates they will work from the start as they're supposed to, Roberts said.
Everything has to be done right the first time, he said. "It's only once in a lifetime that you go through something like this."
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DIVERSITY EFFORT PRAISED: "All I wanted was fairness. I think you've done that," County Councilman Jea Street told public safety director Ernest Frazier and Lawrence Tan, chief of the paramedics service. Street's remarks at a meeting of Council's public safety committee on July 10, after hearing a report on the service's efforts to achieve racial and ethnic diversity, were particularly significant. He touched off a stormy controversy several months ago when he charged it was lax in that regard. "It may not be yielding all the results we would like ... but the process is solid and it works," Frazier said. Both Street and Frazier are black men.
The most recent paramedics class had two members of 'minority' groups in a complement of eight, Tan said and the goal for the 2007-08 class now being assembled is to at least match and possibly improve on that ratio. Frazier said he is convinced that the process for screening paramedics candidates is not discriminatory, but that there is considerable difficulty getting applicants to apply for the job. He said there has been an increase in 'outreach' activity aimed at reaching prospective candidates. Committee chairman Bill Bell suggested establishing an apprenticeship program to spur interest.
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ANOTHER HOMETOWN: Centreville will join Claymont and Hockessin as long-established but unincorporated communities with traditional characteristics protected by 'hometown' zoning if County Council approves an ordinance sponsored by Councilman William Tansey. Approval is expected at Council's plenary session on July 24. The zoning would apply to properties fronting on Kennett Pike between Snuff Mill and Center Meeting Roads. A design review committee would be established to assure that future development there conforms to a 'village plan'.
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LICENSING APPROVED: County Council enacted an ordinance requiring firms and individuals involved in the construction business to be licensed. Until now, only about 1,500 of an estimated 23,000 contractors working in New Castle County are required to obtain licenses, according to Joseph Reda, sponsor of the ordinance. No one attending the session on July 10 responded to an invitation to testify, pro or con, before Council voted 11-to-two in favor of the measure. William Powers and William Tansey voted against passage. John Cartier, one of its supporters, hailed the measure as "a great piece of consumer-protection legislation." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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AGREEMENT REACHED: American College has reached an agreement, after about eight months of negotiations, to purchase a portion of the Holy Rosary property for $1.5 million, according to college president Donald Ross. Before the college can proceed with its plan to locate its campus there, a rezoning will be necessary, he said. The entire church-school complex is zoned commercial and is included in the Claymont 'hometown overlay' district. Ross said the historic Grubb mansion, which has been used as a conference center and before that a convent, will be renovated and preserved. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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Joseph Brumskill was elected president of the Brandywine school board and Debra Heffernan vice president. Both were chosen unanimously at a board meeting on July 9.
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FIRST STEP: Licensing virtually all construction firms and tradesmen working independently will not totally eliminate so-called 'fly-by-night' operators, but will give residents some recourse against shoddy work, according to supporters of an ordinance pending before County Council. Councilman Joseph Reda, sponsor of a comprehensive measure that would expand the present licensing requirement to include all building contractors, said that eventually they not only will have to register and post a surety bond but also have their competence tested. "We have to take it one step at a time," he said.
Council president Paul Clark said the Department of Land Use has assured him that, with the expanded inspector force provided by the legislation, it is enforceable. Nine additional inspectors and a total of 22 new county employees would be needed, according to the fiscal note attached to the ordinance. However, an estimated start-up cost of $2.9 million would be more than covered by the estimated $4.6 million generated by payments for the licenses. Discussion at a meeting of Council's land-use committee on July 3 indicated there is more than enough support to enact the measure, probably at the Council session on July 10.
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GRANTS APPROVED: While most Delawareans slept, their elected representatives donated $47.7 million of taxpayer money to worthy causes. The annual grants bill was introduced into the General Assembly and became public for the first time shortly after midnight on July 1. It was approved unanimously by both the House of Representatives and Senate and was sent to Governor Minner to be signed into law at 1:47 a.m. Checks will be mailed to a statewide array of nonprofit organizations and fire companies favored by the legislators later this month and in October, January and April.
Gifts included in 26 pages of fine-print lists were: W.H.Y.Y., $660,100; Edgemoor Community Center, $290,800; Brandywine Senior Center, $239,954; Sellers Senior Center, $150,137; Police Athletic League of Delaware, $72,000; Delaware Nature Society, $47,300; Delaware Greenways, $39,400; New Knollwood Civic Association, $37,500; Historic Red Clay Valley, $24,000; Old Brandywine Village, $24,000; Friends of the Claymont Stone School, $22,000; Delaware Sports Museum, $19,000; Kalmar Kyckel Foundation, $17,000; Preservation Delaware, $17,000; Claymont Historical Society, $11,000; Darley Society, $6,000.
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NO ACTION: Left behind in committee when the General Assembly called it a session was the bill to allow New Castle County government to levy a tax of up to 2% on motel and hotel bills. That was the only one of what had been anticipated to be a package of requested legislation to deal with reputed structural limitations in the county tax base. Officials are vague in replying when asked what went awry. "We continue to work with the members of the General Assembly to address the county's need to increase and diversify the revenues that fund the vital services we provide," is all that spokeswoman Christy Gleason would say. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)
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