appears to have
worked out attendance zones
the kids will go to school -- the thorniest issue related to the
Brandywine district's plan to slim down in the face of
declining enrollment -- appears to have been resolved, albeit
clearly not to everyone's satisfaction.
"We're doing the best
we can. ... We're not going to make everybody happy; we realize
that," superintendent Jim Scanlon said as the school board
wrapped up a 'workshop' session at which it received the
latest -- and, likely, final -- iteration of the plan to redraw
"Just say I'm more
satisfied now than I was before," board president Joseph
Brumskill told Delaforum after the session. "I still have two
weeks to make up my mind"
The board is scheduled
to vote on the plan at its regular monthly business meeting on
As previously reported
by Delaforum, the plan now calls for
children from some Wilmington neighborhoods to continue to be
bused to four schools in the suburbs rather than attend Harlan
Elementary and P.S. du Pont Middle. That is expected to have the
effect of reducing the proportion of students from low-income
households who are eligible to receive government-subsidized
lunches at those schools while increasing it at others.
The lunch program is
regarded as a way to measure economic diversity. Although both
supporters and critics of earlier versions of the plan have
focused on economics, it was clear during discussions that both
race and perceived shortcomings in the way of academic
achievement were significant considerations.
had voiced strong objections to the wide disparity in the
proportion of children from low-income households who would be
assigned to attend Harlan and P.S. He was joined in his opposition by several parents and other
According to data
presented at the June 9 'workshop', the latest version of the plan
will result in 47% of the students at Harlan coming from
low-income households, down from 56% in the earlier proposal. At
the other end of the scale, Brandywood Elementary will be 25% up
The range is more
narrow at the middle school level with P.S. and Talley both
having about 38% and Springer 30%. Under the former plan, P.S.
would have had 46% and Springer 23%.
David Blowman, the district's chief
financial officer, who presented the data, said that it was not
in any way manipulated to produce a desired result. As was the
case in previous versions of the plan, attendance zones were
drawn, using a University of Delaware computer model, on the
basis of the district's official 2007-08 academic year
enrollment. No assumptions regarding how extensive school choice
assignments will be nor the projected continued decline in
enrollment were cranked into the model and "free and reduced
[price-] lunch [eligibility] was not a factor in program
location," he said.
He said that "it is
impossible to get lower [ratios] ... unless you bus
kids all over the district."
An unexpected side
effect of some of the shifts was to improve feeder
patterns to noticeably increase the number of
students likely to remain together as their
elementary-school class advances to middle school
and high school, Blowman said.
The board at the
'workshop' also received a preliminary plan for
locating special programs. That plan, however,
will not be ready for a vote on June 23, Scanlon
said. Among decisions yet to be made is whether to
locate the program for academically 'gifted' students in one
school or run parallel programs in two.
Following are the expected percentages
of students who would be eligible to receive
government-subsidized lunches under the
latest attendance zones plan:
P.S. du Pont
Included in the
attendance zone plan is a provision for moving the kindergarten
program from P.S. to Harlan. The section of the P.S. building
where it was housed was rebuilt and drastically changed during
the current renovation project. The Harlan building will require
modifications to accommodate kindergarteners, Scanlon said, but
was not able to provide an estimate of the cost of doing so. The
overall reconfiguration of the district has been estimated to
cost about $2.6 million, he said.
As part of the
transition process, the district is working with an architect to
determine specific costs of the several physical changes that
will be necessary, Barbara Meredith, director of support
Since the new
attendance zones will not be in effect until the beginning of
the 2009-10 academic year, Blowman cautioned that there will be
some changes in their actual result and that variances in the
figures could be significant.
Establishing new zones
is necessary because the district will close two schools --
Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle -- after the coming
2008-09 academic year. Although obviously difficult, that
decision was less divisive because it essentially involved just
two schools while attendance zones apply to the entire district.
During a public comment
session at the start of the 'workshop', north Wilmington
resident Martha Carper, wife of U.S. Senator Tom Carper, called
on the board to delay taking a vote on the plan and possibly
postpone implementation of school closure and realignment of
grade configurations until the start of the 2010-11 academic
The latest plan "makes
an attempt to reduce the inequities [among] schools, but it
doesn't go far enough," she said. "It moves students out of the
city, but makes no effort to attract suburban children. ...
Parents will 'choice out' of city schools."
It is more than
theoretically possible under the new plan that some children
living in the city could spend all 13 years of their academic
careers being transported to suburban schools. Most of those
would be assigned to schools which children from their
neighborhoods now attend, except for fourth, fifth and sixth
grades. With the new grade configuration, Brandywine no longer
will have intermediate schools, which now serve those grades.
No one on the board
indicated during subsequent discussion any desire to entertain
the idea of postponements.
New Castle County
Councilman Jea Street told the board that if it "votes to create
high-poverty schools or [to] resegregate," it will leave the
district vulnerable "to litigation I believe is coming."
"Make sure that
'choice-out' doesn't become a way to make segregation raise its
ugly head again,"
Karim Abubakar, a
resident of Brandywine Hills, said.
Attendance at the 'workshop' was larger than usual and most of
the 50 or so attenders remained for the entire session despite
the fact that the air-conditioning system in the administration
building had broken down earlier in the day and a temporary unit
could only make a valiant but not totally successful attempt to