two-schools closure plan
an anticlimactic unanimous vote, the Brandywine Board of
Education approved the first significant restructuring of the
district since it was established 27 years ago by the General
Assembly and state Board of Education.
vote, conducted in near-routine fashion, came as no surprise two
hours into the board's regular monthly business meeting on Feb.
25 when vice president Debra Heffernan offered and Patricia
Hearn seconded a motion to accept the superintendent's
recommendation that ...
• Darley Road
Elementary and Hanby Middle Schools be declared "no longer
needed for district purposes as of July 1, 2009."
superintendent determine whether the Hanby site, in Chalfonte,
can be used as the location at which to build a new Brandywood
Elementary or, if not, start the process to return the site to
the state government "with a recommendation for [its] use as
open space, athletic fields or parkland."
superintendent begin a process seeking to lease the Darley Road
site, opposite Ashbourne Hills, "for educational purposes with
some benefit for students of the district" or, if that cannot be
done, comply with a deed restriction that it be sold back to
Denver-based Colorado Fuel & Iron Corp. The company, which then
owned what is now the Claymont Steel plant, sold it to the
former Claymont district in 1957 while retaining a first option
to buy it back for $1,400 an acre.
The superintendent do what is necessary to convert the grade
configuration of the remaining nine elementary schools to
kindergarten through fifth grade and of the three middle schools
to sixth through eighth grade. Except for Maple Lane Elementary,
which added a fifth grade this academic year and will add a
sixth grade next year, Brandywine's elementary schools run
through third grade and there are three intermediate schools
with fourth, fifth and sixth grades. As part of the accepted
closure plan, P.S. du Pont, now one of the intermediate schools,
will replace Hanby as a middle school; Claymont and Harlan Intermediate
will become elementary schools. Maple Lane will revert to
kindergarten-through-fifth grade under the new alignment.
Scanlon told the board that the projected $1.6 million in annual
operating costs to be saved by closing Darley Road and Hanby,
plus $500,000 as the result of the previous decision to close
the buildings housing the Bush Early Learning Center and the
district's administrative offices, will be more than offset
during the first year by an estimated $1 million in moving costs
and $1.6 million to retrofit some buildings. He emphasized,
however, that those are one-time expenses while the savings will
continue each subsequent year.
Scanlon also said
he expects between 70% and 80% of the staff to end up with
changed assignments "to make all this happen." Planning and
transition is to occur over the course of the next 16 to 18
closing schools has been the
dominant element attracting public attention as a space
consolidation plan to reduce excess student capacity in the
district has been taking shape during the past five months,
changing to a three-tier grade configuration from four tiers
represents a basic change in how the district operates.
configuration was imposed by federal court in 1978 to achieve
racial desegregation in public schools in northern Delaware. It
provided that at least three years of a child's education would
take place in Wilmington. When court control was lifted and the
General Assembly enacted the state Neighborhood Schools Act,
Brandywine alone among the four northern districts, opted to
retain the status quo. That decision was strongly advocated by
the district's previous administration and the school board, and
received overwhelming support when put before the community in a
formal, albeit non-binding, plebiscite.
school closure plan, which would also have included Carrcroft
Elementary, was not put before the board.
During a brief
discussion before their voice vote, three of the six board
members present for the meeting raised related points. Aletha
Ramseur did not attend the meeting.
Joseph Brumskill, who read from a prepared statement, offered
the most pointed comments. Paraphrasing U.S. President Franklin
Roosevelt, he said Jan. 7 was "a day of infamy for the
Brandywine School District." That was the evening that the
volunteer space-consolidation committee submitted its
recommendations to the board.
Brumskill said the
recommendations "raised the ugly hand of racism, elitism,
economic class, misinformation and misunderstanding." That
reference evidently was to some comments raised publicly and
privately concerning attendance zones for the remaining schools.
But Brumskill also
said that "the community [has] accepted the need to close
schools at this time." He said that was the result of "the loss
of student population and growth of the senior population" since
the board in 2004 rejected a plan that would have closed Hanby
Heffernan said she
would like to see attendance zones drawn in a way that will more
evenly distribute students from low-income households eligible
to receive government-subsidized lunches among the schools. That
is now the accepted standard for measuring 'economic diversity'.
The board was not
asked to decide on the zones -- also referred to as 'feeder
patterns' -- at this time. Scanlon said final refinements will
be made to proposed zones and parents will be notified
individually in March to which schools their children would be
assigned in order "to get input" before a final determination of
the zones is made and put before the board.
Sandra Skelley said
she was concerned that Dwyer Field, a seven-diamond youth
baseball facility on the Darley Road property maintained and
used by Claymont Little League, remain available. Scanlon told
her that it will "as long as we own that property."
Jennie Moore, a
parent and active volunteer at Darley Road, was the only member
of the public to speak at the meeting. She praised the staff at
that school and said the decision to close it reflected the
district's "lack of concern for Claymont." Scanlon disputed
that, saying that "we are very concerned about all our
"Voting to close
schools by no means means we don't value children, schools
staffs and parents," Hearn said.
Other attenders who
availed themselves of the public comment session raised
objections to the plan to institute 'block scheduling' -- use of
90-minute class periods instead of 45-minute periods -- at
Brandywine High. That is one of the provisions being offered to
comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law requirement
that Brandywine revamp its program to improve the academic
performance of some student groups to come out from under
director of elementary education and administrative services,
presented a general summary of steps proposed not only for
Brandywine High but also P.S. and Talley Middle. Final
recommendations are to go to the board for approval at its
March meeting. Heffernan questioned whether that allowed
sufficient time for the board to give due consideration to the
plans and still meet an Apr. 1 deadline for their submission to
the state Department of Education. Curtis said it did.