plan and approves a 5% tax hike
putting the divisive controversy over where children will go
after it closes two of its schools, the Brandywine district
administration and board of education turned attention to the
next hurdle -- what to do with the properties where the
buildings to be closed now sit.
The board, as
expected, voted to accept the most recent version of attendance
zones for the nine elementary and three middle schools that will
operate, beginning in August, 2009, after conversion from a
four-tier to a three-tier grade alignment. The vote was
unanimous. High school attendance zones will not change.
At its meeting on
June 23, the board also voted unanimously, without any
discussion, for a 5% increase in the district's property tax
rate for the coming fiscal year. That vote was conditioned on
the state General Assembly not including anything in the general
fund or capital budgets that would affect Brandywine beyond what
is now anticipated. The legislature will enact the budgets just
before it wraps up its current session at the end of the month.
Scanlon told the board that he has received inquiries from
several public and nonprofit organizations interested in the
Darley Road Elementary, Hanby Middle and the district office
properties, opposite Ashbourne Hills, in Chalfonte and in Radnor
One, he said, came
from a developer, but he added that "we are trying to avoid"
having any of the properties residentially or commercially
The preference for
the 17-acre Hanby site, he said, is to obtain state
authorization of raze the existing building and construct a new
Brandywood Elementary instead of replacing it at its current
location a quarter mile away in Brandywood. Scanlon said the
administration is talking with state legislators in an effort to
bring that about. If so, it would like the Brandywood site to
become a public park.
Interest in the
Darley Road site, he said, has come from several groups,
including the Delaware National Guard, the Boys and Girls Club,
Odyssey Charter School and Wilmington University. That property
carries a deed restriction which requires it to be used for
educational purposes or be offered at what is now a ridiculously
low price to Colorado Fuel & Iron, the company which sold it to
the former Claymont district.
The three properties are
"technically owned by the state [government]," he said, and it
is not certain exactly what say the Brandywine district would
have if any or all are declared surplus to its needs. "There's a
lot of talk in Dover ... about use of the buildings," he said.
On the other hand,
the board evidently has the authority to lease them. The bottom
line, Scanlon said is that the district will do all it can "so
we do not have any buildings sitting empty."
said he has an almost-certain answer to what he termed "the
second most frequently asked question" posed by interested
members of the public. "Unless something drastic happens between
now and [June 30], we will definitely have full-day
kindergarten" in the coming academic year, he said. State money
to support that apparently has survived budget cuts brought
about by state government's fiscal problem.
The unanimous vote
on the attendance zones was almost anticlimactic. Board member
Mark Huxsoll hesitated several seconds before casting a 'yes'
voice vote and added "but reluctantly."
Sandra Skelly did
not attend the meeting.
before the vote was taken, Huxsoll said, with reference to
Harlan Elementary and P.S. du Pont Middle, which are located in
Wilmington, that he was concerned that the district is "really
going to make sure they're attractive schools for everybody."
Those schools are expected to have the highest proportion of
students eligible to receive government-subsidized lunches but,
with the latest revision of attendance zones, that falls short
of the 50% threshold defining 'high-poverty' schools.
When she offered
the resolution accepting the superintendent's attendance-zone
recommendation, board vice president Debra Heffernan added a
last-minute proviso that there be "a comprehensive review" of
schools' performance after the 2010-11 academic year, the second
under the new arrangement. Her intent, she said, was "to make
sure we have success and achievement in all [district] schools."
With an apparent
intent to make the city schools attractive to suburban parents,
the plan for locating special programs calls for a fourth
International Baccalaureate program to be offered at P.S.
and for the program for academically 'gifted' students, which
now runs through sixth grade, to be extended to P.S.'s seventh
and eighth grades.
Scanlon said that a
task related to space consolidation is adapting the district's
school-choice arrangement to the new alignment. That, he said,
has to be accomplished during the coming autumn. State law
requires 'choice' applications to be filed by January.
again questioned the need to have present third-graders change
schools in three consecutive years. They are slated to go to
fourth grade in an intermediate school during the coming year,
back to fifth grade in an elementary school the year the new
arrangement begins and then on to a middle school the following
Scanlon pointed out
that postponing the changes would only shift that requirement to
present second-graders. But, he said, the administration is
looking into the possibility of having P.S. and Claymont, both
of which have room, housing fifth grades during the first year
after they converted from intermediate to middle schools.
Joseph Brumskill, who was outspoken during public discussions
leading up to the vote in calling for much 'economic diversity'
throughout the district as possible, indicated that he accepted
the latest revision. "There may have to be changes as we go down
the road, but that comes with life," he said.
However, he added,
"contrary to the beliefs of some people in the district ...
together we -- the community, the administration and the staff
-- can make it work."
who, like Skelly, is completing her term on the board this
month, said she intends to be active in an effort to increase
parental support of their children's education. "People choose
to live in this area because of the strength of this district.
... I tell them [to] have faith in the district that you chose
[and] and give it (the new arrangement) a chance to work," she
determining the attendance zones "a very difficult task" that
could not have been accomplished without many people devoting
literally "thousands of hours" to the effort.
balancing conflicting priorities -- getting kids close to home
and [maintaining] economic balance," he said. "All the decisions
have been sound. ... The kids will be all right with it -- and
so will their parents."
The tax rate for
the coming year was set at $1.7785 for each $100 of
assessed property value, up from the present $1.6925. County
government collects the school tax on behalf of the school
districts along with its property tax. The taxes are due Sept.
officer David Blowman said the new rate reflects a 5¢ increase
in the tuition tax, which finances services for children with
severe special needs and 4¢ more for debt service, partly offset
by four-tenth of a cent reduction in the local operating rate as
the result of completing renovation of athletic facilities.
At 22.2¢, the
tuition rate, he said, will be the lowest of any district in New
Castle County. The next lowest is 31¢. Tuition tax is not
subject to referendum. This is the next to last year that the
cost of servicing the bond debt incurred to finance school
renovations will increase. Beyond that, it will gradually go
down as the bonds are retired.
Under the new rate,
the tax on a typical house, assessed as $70,000, will be $1,245,
up from $1,185 this year.
As a precaution
against the Assembly doing anything that would require change,
the board has formally scheduled a special 'if needed' meeting
for June 30.
In another matter
at the June 23 meeting, the board approved an across-the-board
2.5% pay raise for secretaries and a 2% increase in the
district's share of salaries for administrators and specialists.
to the student code of conduct which include a provision for
'peer courts' in each of the three high schools. As Delaforum
previously, reported that will enable students who commit and
admit first offenses which might land them in court to avoid
that by agreeing to accept punishments determined by other
students based on circumstances of the incident.