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September 2007

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IT'S TRANSFERABLE: Anyone now eligible to receive a county property-tax and sewer-fee exemption would continue to receive the current benefit if he, she or they change residence if the pending ordinance to make the program more restrictive is enacted, according to James Boyle, County Council's policy director. Delaforum previously reported incorrectly that the exemption would be less under terms provided in the proposed ordinance. It would be necessary to re-apply for new property, but Boyle said beneficiaries would be able to carry the exemption with them if they move. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

SCORECARD: During the past academic year, Brandywine schools superintendent Jim Scanlon achieved two of the four goals he set for himself and partly achieved a third. Voters approved an increase in the district's operating-tax rate. A new organizational table was approved, resulting in a cost saving of $300,000 and the district ended the fiscal year with a budget carry-forward balance slightly more than $2 million. Teachers and administrators received training to better serve black and 'special education' students although the growth in the numbers of those youngsters meeting state standards fell short of the goal.

Districtwide, the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards as measured by the assessment testing program increased by just over one percentage point in reading and just below one point in mathematics, well short of the goal of a five-point improvement. Also, none of the three schools with 'corrective action' status under the federal No Child Left Behind Act were removed from that status although all three showed some improvement. Scanlon said he will draft goals for the present year and present them to the school board for concurrence in October. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

ADMINISTRATORS GET A PAY RAISE: The Brandywine school board voted unanimously and without any discussion to give district administrators a 2.5% increase in the locally financed portion of their base salary plus up to 1% in 'merit' pay. Chief financial officer David Blowman told the board at its meeting on Sept. 24 that the average increase will be around 3%. Individual salaries have not yet been determined. Blowman described the increases as "very modest -- less than inflation." He told Delaforum that their size should not be taken as an indication of what teachers, whose union contract is being negotiated, will receive.

    

REVERSAL: Councilman William Tansey got his 'super majority' and then some, but not in the direction he wanted. His proposed ordinance to require 10 affirmative votes to enact any future tax increase died for lack of anyone seconding it at County Council's session on Sept. 25. At a finance committee meeting earlier in the day he argued that "we ought to have a mandate" in order to raise taxes. Council president Paul Clark contended, however, that "when you go to a 'super majority' very few people control." Tansey was one of a minority of Council members who voted earlier this year against the 17% increase in the property tax rate.

    

AT A STANDSTILL: American College officials "have chosen not to re-engage with us," County Councilman John Cartier told a meeting of the Claymont Design Review Advisory Council. They backed out of a meeting he scheduled with Jeff Bullock, the county's second-ranking official, intended to explore possibilities of reversing the college's decision not to locate a campus in Claymont, the councilman said. Nevertheless, "I am still very interested in helping American College," he added. "It (the campus) would have been a great addition to the Claymont renaissance."

Cartier criticized college officials for not properly preparing to support rezoning the Holy Rosary property it sought to acquire as a site for the new campus. They "did not fulfill their responsibility to come here with a plan," he said at the meeting on Sept. 20. "We need[ed] to have a process the public could be involved in. ... If they had hired land-use professionals we recommended they would have been prepared to come into the process." Cartier withdrew an ordinance he sponsored after the advisory committee was unable to conduct a public hearing on it. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delafourm article.)

    

The Brandywine school board is not likely this time to yield to public pressure and back off from closing one or more schools, the subcommittee charged with recommending which ones was told.

Superintendent Jim Scanlon stopped short of offering a firm guarantee, but said his impression is that the seven-member board "would rather put the money into programs" than use tax dollars to subsidize excess capacity. He pointed out that during the spring referendum campaign he frequently talked of shutting buildings. "They were supportive of it then. ... I think they're still there," he told the facilities subcommittee at a meeting on Sept. 19. Noting that a similar panel in 2004 recommended closures, he said he doubts that the work this time will be in vain. "The biggest change [since then] is that we have fewer kids," he said.

The subcommittee was told that it still has flexibility to consider options but, as a practical matter, the momentum of the district's renovation program limits closure possibilities to five buildings -- Brandywood and Hanby, where no renovation dollars have yet been committed, and Carrcroft, Darley Road and Maple Lane, which were renovated before 1999. And Maple Lane is questionable because it is the only Brandywine school operating on a modified year-around schedule. Nevertheless, Scanlon said, the options include revising grade configurations on a districtwide basis. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

He repeated previous objections to the district's authorizing a charter school, but said there currently is an internal study going on looking at possibly employing "some of their creative concepts."

    

ON HOLD: The study looking to establish a New Castle County stormwater utility has been delayed pending the outcome of negotiations over contents of a new wastewater permit involving county government, state transportation and natural resources departments, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, County Council's special services committee was told on Sept. 18. "No one can say exactly what a stormwater utility will look like," Wayne Merritt said. He also declined to give a specific response when asked to estimate when an utility is likely to be established. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

TEST RESULTS: College-bound seniors in the three Brandywine district high schools outperformed their statewide peers and kept pace with national averages in the College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test this year. However, the district's average scores dropped slightly from 2006 in two of the three S.A.T. categories. The state averages, as reported in August by the Delaware Department of Education, include students from both public and non-public schools who took the test. Brandywine results were reported in response to an inquiry form Delafourm.

Number of

Number who

Reading

scores

Math

scores

Writing

scores

graduates took the test 2007 2006 2007 2006 2007 2006
               

District

687 442 507 502 513 514 494

496

Brandywine High

242 171 524 522 520 536 507

518

Concord High

244 169 492 500 514 517 483

498

Mount Pleasant High

201 102 503 474 498 474 492

459

             

 

Delaware

 

4,370

497 499 496 500 486

484

National

    502 503 515 518 494

497

             

 

Brandywine district:

             

 

   Male

  189 508 502 527 530 483

489

   Female

  253 506 502 502 502 503

501

   Asian

  16 540 536 594 602 530

548

   Black

  101 415 416 411 419 405

416

   White

  295 537 533 544 546 523

522

               

Sources: Brandywine School District, Delaware Department of Education, College Board Inc.

 

    

GRADE ALIGNMENT MAY CHANGE: The school consolidation subcommittee charged with exploring best educational practices in connection with the Brandywine School District intention to reduce excess capacity appears to be focusing on realigning grade configuration to eliminate intermediate schools, one of the present four tiers. Sixth grades would be added to middle schools with elementary schools running from kindergarten through fifth grade. While no final decision was made, that seemed to be a consensus of subcommittee members at a meeting on Sept. 13. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

COMPOST RULES: Faced with the possibility that the planned state ban on dumping yard waste into the Cherry Island Marsh landfill will got into effect in January, County Council has been asked to permit private mulching and composting in residential areas and establish land-use parameters for commercial operations. A proposed ordinance introduced on Sept. 11 by Council members Stephanie McClellan and David Tackett adds those operations to the list of things allowed on a residential lot so long as the material is generated on the site and is not augmented by stuff from elsewhere.

The measure would simply add mulching to the list of allowed commercial agricultural support operations. A new provision would be added to the Unified Development Code would allow commercial composting no closer than 200 feet from a residential property and 50 feet from another commercial property provided that the site is fenced and screened year-around by landscaping. Mulching is defined in the measure as cutting up material while composting is a process of "controlled biological decomposition of organic material that has been sanitized through the generation of heat."

    

OUTSIDE HELP: County Council on Sept. 11 unanimously approved an ordinance giving it the option to hire an outside lawyer as special counsel to advise it on deciding whether to reimburse a county government employee for legal fees in a criminal case related to his or her official duties. Council president Paul Clark said Council may soon have to resolve a complex $4 million reimbursement claim. Former chief administrative officer Sherry Freebery reportedly is considering a claim in that amount as the result of the protracted corruption case which ended in a minimal sentence after pleading guilty to one of several charges.

    

PRINCIPAL NAMED: Jeffrey Byrem has been appointed acting principal of Brandywine High School. He had served a year as assistant principal and before that in various capacities in another district, according to Brandywine district superintendent Jim Scanlon. Richard Gregg resigned as principal to take a job in Pennsylvania. He was the second district principal to tender a resignation shortly before this academic year began. In other action at a meeting on Sept. 10, the school board formally seated Aletha Ramseur, bringing its membership back to a full complement of seven. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

American College has decided not to locate its permanent campus in Claymont, largely because of the slow pace at which redevelopment of the Brookview Apartments complex is proceeding.

Responding to an inquiry from Delaforum, college president Donald E. Ross said: "We are concerned that the Brookview project has not materialized as had been promised. The urban renewal of Claymont is absolutely necessary for a residential campus to be established [t]here. This is the main reason the college decided to locate [a] campus in Claymont. At the present time the Brookview project is stalled and this creates a major problem for the American College." The former apartment buildings are being cleared prior to demolition, after which it is planned to construct mixed-use Renaissance Village in stages.

Brett Saddler, executive director of Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., appears to have left the door ajar for possible reconsideration. "The Claymont community can offer American College opportunities that may not be able to be found elsewhere in New Castle County. Councilman [John] Cartier and the [development corporation] are dedicated to facilitate [its] growth here if [its officials] so choose," he said. Saddler said he was told that lack of immediately available sanitary-sewer capacity and the need to rezone the Holy Rosary property, part of which the college sought to buy, were contributing factors. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Regarding the Childrens Home site, in which American College also was said to be interested, Saddler said "a growing number of residents" would like a public library built in a parklike setting there.

    

COMMUNICATING 101: "We've got to have a Brandywine School District identity. ... We're not there yet in terms of communications," superintendent Jim Scanlon told a committee crafting a communications and marketing plan. "Overall, public perception of [the district] seems to be relatively good, though public support for the district is lacking. ... It's a problem because it keeps us from doing good things." In the immediate future, he said, space consolidation -- which will include closing schools -- "will require a tremendous amount of clear, concise, yet thorough communications with parents and the community."

Provisions of a draft plan presented at a meeting on Sept. 6 range from promptly returning telephone calls and e.mail messages to proactively promoting "positive" media coverage. Some steps have already been taken in that regard, Scanlon said. All district employees were briefed at the start of the academic year on a policy of responding to messages within 24 to 48 hours. Also, some favorable publicity articles and, so far, one editorial piece have been placed. Overall, he said, emphasis is being given to improving customer service and establishing better relations between the district's central administrative office and individual schools.

    

ON HOLD: County Councilman John Cartier has withdrawn an ordinance to rezone the Holy Rosary property in order to allow American College to establish a campus there. The proposal drew opposition from some residents who live nearby. Cartier, who initiated the proactive rezoning, said the college did not provide adequate documentation of its plans. A Planning Board hearing scheduled for Sept. 4 was cancelled and continuation of the August Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee meeting on Sept. 12 evidently is off.  The withdrawal postpones County Council action on the proposal until at least February. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

    

County government is about to issue a call for anyone or any organization interested in being a rent-free tenant in a park for as long as they live -- or wish to stay there.

After hanging fire for several years, a resident curator program involving at least five county-owned properties will become reality with the issuance soon of formal requests for proposals, according to Tracy Surles, general manager of the Department of Special Services. They will be judged, she said, by an internal committee on the basis of intended use and ability to finance needed restoration, renovation and maintenance. Estimated cost over the next five years is about $150,000. The evaluation process is the same as for any no-bid contract with County Council approval required , she explained.

"We prefer residential or nonprofit [use], but we're not shutting out for-profit commercial. ... We're looking for more-creative uses," Surles told Delaforum. "When we visited houses [in a similar program] in Maryland, I was very impressed that people had done more to the houses than I would have thought." Those who expressed interest when the idea was first floated five years ago in connection with preservation of the Jester farmstead off Grubb Road will be notified of the proposals request, which also will be publicly advertised. There will be open houses at the initially-available sites. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

The evaluation committee will remain in existence to look at other properties which could later be included in the program.

    

CHARGE ! : County Councilman Robert Weiner has launched a 'War on Graffiti' in his western Brandywine Hundred district. In a series of e.mails, he has mustered some civic associations, the Brandywine School District, county police Explorer Scout troops and other groups to organize rapid-response 'citizen brigades'. The volunteer militia will stand ready to turn out as soon as unwanted decoration appears to at least paint over it, if not eventually to wipe it out. Green Acres Civic Association has already agreed to take on the Interstate 95 and C.S.X. railroad bridges over Silverside Road.

"The successful lesson that New York City's anti-graffiti campaign taught us is the importance of immediate action ... in order to frustrate the graffiti vandals," Weiner said. As he sees it, each participating community will set up an organization under the leadership of a captain to whom residents will be urged to report any graffiti they spot. Delaware Department of Transportation has agreed to supply paint and safety equipment.  "This broad public-private partnership is essential if we hope to take back control of our communities from graffiti vandals and other criminal elements," Weiner said.

    

FAIR WEATHER: Once again the Ardens and Mother Nature saw eye-to eye as perfect late summer weather smiled on the 100th annual renewal of the Arden Fair. What appeared to be a record crowd turned out for the event on Sept. 1. Costumed residents and scores of other volunteers were on hand to help bid farewell to the season. The fair, now sponsored by the Arden club, has been a community tradition since 1908 when Arden was a summer resort attracting visitors form Philadelphia. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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Last updated on September 28, 2007

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