which schools to close
schools to close will be the only thing decided by the
Brandywine school board when it votes to approve a
space-consolidation plan for the district. Details of how the
plan will be implemented -- especially defining attendance
zones, relocating programs and arranging staffing -- will be
left for the superintendent and his administration to determine.
strictly voting on what schools to close. ... That is all we're
doing," board president Joseph Brumskill said at the second of
two public hearings on the proposed plan.
At this point it is
all but certain that the board will accept superintendent Jim
Scanlon's recommendation that Darley Road Elementary and Hanby
Middle Schools be taken off line after the 2008-09 academic
year. An alternate proposal would also close Carrcroft
Elementary, but it appears clear that that idea is dead in the
representative Gregory Lavelle urged the board to agree to the
two-school option. His was the first public comment by a major
official concerning the matter. In devising that plan, "you've
done what you're supposed to do," he said.
The board is
scheduled to vote at its monthly business meeting on Feb. 25.
attenders at the hearing on Feb. 11 that the "basic feeders are
pretty much done," but will be open to "one last shot" after the
board makes its decision. He said his intention is to announce
the alignment in a general mailing to district residents in
March, allow a month for the public to submit comments -- "in
case we've missed anything" in the way of anticipating the
effects on specific neighborhoods -- and issue the final version
also planned that the district
website will be able to be used to determine by specific address
to which schools a child will be assigned. Maps defining the
proposed zones are posted on the website.
of the plan and discussion about it, the terms 'feeder' and
'feeder pattern' have been used interchangeably when referring both
to the progression of students from the elementary through the
middle to the high school level and to attendance zones.
from the apparent effect of changes from the present zones --
which have been in effect since the district was established in
the early 1980s -- on specific neighborhoods were the most
frequently voiced comments at the hearings. Alapocas and the
Weldin Road area in southwestern Brandywine Hundred and the
Stockdale and Governor Printz Boulevard area of Claymont were
among adversely affected locales cited.
The only major
change to maps of the zones previously presented at the hearings
and information meetings and posted on the district website is
the likelihood of retaining the present high school zones.
Scanlon said that is not a problem because the three high
schools will remain open. Brumskill previously had objected
because redrawn attendance zones would have limited students
residing in Wilmington to Brandywine and Mount Pleasant High.
Scanlon said that the present arrangement has more Wilmington
students going to Concord High than to either of the other two.
zones more than a year in advance, he said, is intended, among
other things, to facilitate use of the state's public school
choice law if attending a different school is desired.
Also, he said,
choice was one of the key considerations which drove his
recommendation to close just two schools. Although he said there
would be sufficient physical space to accommodate assigned
students if three schools were closed, that would eliminate
seats available for 'choiced' students. At present, there are
1,700 students who live in the district and 315 who live in
other districts taking that route. Those coming from outside the
district generate about $500,000 for the revenue side of the
Brandywine operating budget, he said.
"It is not just me
doing this," Scanlon said. There were "dozens of people" who
contributed to development of the consolidation plan, the
process was fully open to public view at every step along the
way, and board members were kept fully informed, he added.
Only four of the
seven board members attended the second public haring. They were
Brumskill, vice president Debra Heffernan, Mark Huxsoll and
Olivia Johnson-Harris. Absent were Patricia Hearn, Aletha
Ramseur and Sandra Skelly. All but Brumskill were present for
the first hearing.
president of the Ashbourne Hills Civic Association, lavishly
complemented Scanlon and the committees that worked on the plan.
While "we're still not happy" that Darley Road Elementary, which
serves that community, will be closed, he said he recognized
that considerable work and volunteer-service hours went into
developing a "plan that is reasonable."
"It's not anything
anybody at this table wants to do, but it's something that has
to be done," Huxoll said. He said that he was unable to find any
public school district in Pennsylvania or New Jersey with 10,000
students -- an enrollment comparable to Brandywine's -- which
operates 19 schools, which Brandywine does if the P.S. du Pont
kindergarten and Bush Early Education Center are included. The
average, he said, is 12 or 13.
The board "voted
with our hearts, not our heads" when it bowed to public pressure
in 2004 and rejected a plan which would have closed Hanby and
Brandywood Elementary, Huxoll, who was a member of the board
expected decision this time "is being made based on what's best
for the students," Scanlon said. It is intended "to make sure we
have the dollars to continue running our programs."
said that the expected increase in Brandywine Hundred's
school-age population as a result of the Renaissance Village
redevelopment project in Claymont will add about 600 students to
district enrollment. That, he said, would only offset the
decline in enrollment projected by the University of Delaware as
a result of the general demographics of northern New Castle
County during the six or seven years it is expected to take to
build the new community. Capacity data underlying the
consolidation plan is based on current enrollment.
He said the
reported recommendation of the state government-established
Wilmington Education Taskforce to divide the city between the
Brandywine and Red Clay districts in place of the present
four-district division will not impact Brandywine's decision to
"I don't think it's
going to happen any too soon -- if at all," he said with
reference to the recommendation. "If it does come to fruition,
we will have to deal with it." He pointed out that if the east
side of the city were added to Brandywine's jurisdiction, the
schools located there would come too.
Brumskill are members of the taskforce. Both reportedly voted
against the recommendation.
Scanlon said he
probably will determine by next autumn who the principals of the
remaining schools will be. Because the state authorizes teacher
positions based on enrollment, the district will have the same
number whether or not schools are closed. There will be some
loss of clerical and custodial positions, but he said he
anticipates that normal attrition will handle that.
closures could disrupt some students' reasonable progression, he
said he will do what he can to 'grandfather' them in their
present assignments. It appears, however, that nothing can be
done for present third-graders who face the prospect of moving
to an intermediate school next academic year, back to an
elementary school the following year and then to a middle
are being set up to ease the process of moving to the new
change which appears to have been almost unanimously accepted by
the public is substituting a three-tier grade alignment
for the present four-tier alignment. Elementary school will run
from kindergarten through fifth grade, middle school from sixth
through eighth and high school will remain from ninth through
12th. The four-tier system was imposed under the desegregation
plan ordered by federal court in the late 1970s. The other three
affected districts have already changed their alignments.
He said he does not
anticipate difficulty in assigning teachers to or recruiting new
teachers for schools with a high proportion of students from
low-income families. "We don't have any problems staffing them
now," he said. Under the two-closure plan, Harlan Elementary
would have the highest portion, 56%, and Claymont Middle would
be second with 45%.
Scanlon said there
necessarily has been a compromise in the proposed plan as a
result of competing priorities to maintain economic diversity of
students in every school while assigning as many as possible to
schools closest to their homes. He said diversity based on the
proportion of students receiving government-subsidized lunches
is not the sole determinant of academic performance.