December  6,  2007

Advisory committee receives
school closing scenarios

Brandywine School District's space consolidation committee moved into the final and most critical phase of its assignment: Deciding which of the district's 13 schools it will recommend be closed.

Superintendent Jim Scanlon presented four of the most likely scenarios and the committee added a fifth one while brainstorming the pros and cons of each. No conclusions were reached although the conversation at a meeting on Dec. 5 provided a few hints about how some committee members are thinking.

Scanlon's list:

Scenario No. 1 -- Close Carrcroft and Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle.

Scenario No. 2 -- Close Brandywood and Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle.

Scenario No. 3 -- Close Darley Road and Maple Lane Elementary and Hanby Middle.

Scenario No. 4 -- Close Brandywood, Carrcroft, Darley Road and Maple Lane Elementary while converting P.S. du Pont Intermediate to a kindergarten-through-eighth grade elementary school.

The scenario added by the committee would close Carrcroft, Darley Road and Maple Lane Elementary.

The school board is scheduled to receive the committee's recommendations -- probably involving two or three ranked alternatives -- in January and to make a decision in February. The actual closures are not likely to take place until after the 2008-09 academic year.

As previously reported, a pivotal element in the restructuring is an all but certain move from the four-tier grade alignment which has existed since the district was established following court-ordered racial desegregation in the late 1970s. On at least two occasions in the past -- when the desegregation order was lifted and when a state law mandated a 'neighborhood schools' plan -- the current arrangement was kept in place with apparently strong community support.

There is some evidence that attitude may have shifted. "I have not heard a negative comment about K-5," Scanlon told the committee.

Under the new arrangement, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate schools would be eliminated. Except for those who live in the city of Wilmington, children would attend elementary school from kindergarten through the fifth grade. There is a self-contained kindergarten in the P.S. du Pont building in north Wilmington. Middle schools would add the sixth grade to the present seventh and eighth grades. High schools would remain ninth-through-12th grade.

To accommodate the new arrangement the proposed scenarios call for the function of some buildings to be changed. At present, it is hoped that schools can be grouped into 'clean' feeder patterns which would keep groups of youngsters whose residences do not change together for their entire academic career.

While presenting his list, Scanlon emphasized that it was intended to be preliminary and to be used as a basis for further discussion.

Next step, he said, will be to obtain data from the Delaware Department of Education to determine attendance zones and whether they would meet the committee's previously agreed upon priority for economic diversity.

To that end, board president Joseph Brumskill made a strong pitch for restructuring P.S. as a kindergarten-through-eighth grade magnet school to attract students from suburban Brandywine Hundred. Failure to do that, he said, would result in racial bias and fear of going into the city taking hold. "If the program is not designed to attract people, they're not going to come," he said.

All four of Scanlon's scenarios would exceed the objective of reducing districtwide excess capacity -- currently given as 2,800 seats --  by at least half. Based on current enrollment, Scenario No. 1 would eliminate 1,611 empty seats; No. 2, 1,645; No. 3, 1,634; and No. 4, 1,832. Like data is not yet available for the committee-initiated scenario but it, too, is believed to meet the capacity-reduction guideline.

Two committee members pointed out that three of the four Scanlon scenarios paired schools in close proximity -- Brandywood and Hanby in the Brandywood-Chalfonte area and Darley Road and Maple Lane in Claymont. A 2005 proposal to close Brandywood and Hanby drew vehement community opposition. Many years after the fact, some Claymont residents are still smarting over closure of Claymont High.

An imponderable is whether to proceed with the plan, already approved at referendum and authorized by DelDOE, to replace Brandywood with a new building. It was suggested that a new Brandywood could be located on the present Hanby site.

Also up for consideration is the fate of closed buildings. It was suggested that turning back the state share of Brandywood construction money might induce state officials to provide the smaller amounts required to immediately demolish the closed buildings.

The first three Scanlon scenarios and the committee-generated one would result in the district's three middle schools being at or beyond rated capacity because of the addition of sixth grades. Mount Pleasant and Claymont Elementary would have significant excess capacity in all the scenarios, but those buildings could also be used to house the district's administrative offices, technology operations and alternative education program.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: School replacements have money committed

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