January  29,  2008

Scanlon opts for closing
two Brandywine schools

Brandywine schools superintendent Jim Scanlon is recommending that the school board vote to close Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle, but not Carrcroft Elementary. 

In the final report of the space-consolidation committee, presented to the board and made public at the board's meeting on Jan. 28, he said the two-closures plan is the better of two options to be considered by the board on Feb. 25. The other option would close Carrcroft as well as Darley Road and Hanby.

In another matter before the board, it voted unanimously and without public discussion to approve a four-year contract with the Brandywine Education Association which calls for establishing a joint administration-union committee to devise and implement an "alternative compensation plan" linked to teacher and student performance to go into effect for the 2010-11 academic year and beyond. Scanlon said such a plan would be the first of its kind in Delaware.

The consolidation report included revisions of possible attendance zones and possible locations for some of the district's programs, but otherwise was not substantially changed from a preliminary plan considered at a public informational meeting in early January.

The report said Scanlon's recommendation is based upon three conclusions he reached "after reviewing all the data." They are:

"Closing three buildings puts many of the rest of our schools at capacity and, therefore, closed to choice [from] outside of the school district. This could lead to a reduction in revenue for the district.

"Closing three buildings reduces the amount of space available for special programs such as arts, music, after-school programs, etc.

"Closing three buildings makes it more difficult to balance economic diversity in each building."

'Choice' refers to the procedure provided by state law which permits parents or guardians to choose to have their children attend a public school other than the one to which they would be assigned based on where they live. The option applies to both transfers within a district and transfers between districts. Brandywine's current budget projects $582,217 in revenue this fiscal year as a result of more students being 'choiced' into Brandywine from other districts than 'choiced' from Brandywine to other districts, up from $468,614 in fiscal 2007.

According to the report, Darley Road was only partly renovated in 1995 and Hanby "is the last remaining non-renovated large building in the district." It goes on to say that "Carrcroft also has a number of maintenance needs, but Darley's maintenance needs are greater and there are fewer students enrolled at Darley than [at] Carrcroft."

The revised attendance zones in Scanlon's preferred scenario would result in the district operating at 82.4% of rated capacity after applying an adjustment to state ratings based on Brandywine's instructional programs. The range would be between 58.6% at Mount Pleasant Elementary and 100.7% at Springer Middle.

Enrollment figures attached to the attendance zones are derived from data about the residences of present students. That is assumed to provide an order-of-magnitude estimate of future enrollments. Closures would not happen until the start of the 2009-10 school year.

The district would 'save' just under $1.7 million a year by not having to operate the two schools,the report said. Scanlon has said previously than any 'savings' would "go into the classrooms."

The portion of  'poverty' students would range from 18.8% at Brandywood Elementary to 52.5% at Harlan Elementary, with a district average of 29.2%. Currently the range is between 21% and 53% with an average of 34%. 'Poverty' is measured by the number of students receiving government-subsidized lunches.

The report said high 'poverty' ratios do not necessarily equate to lower student achievement. While acknowledging that "it can be one indicator," it said the district has experienced notable exceptions. Cited as an example was P.S. du Pont Intermediate, where 'poverty' students made up 44% of the enrollment but which had a greater percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the 2007 mathematics test, 56%, than Brandywood, with a 'poverty' enrollment of 21%, which had 52% passing the test.

"I believe firmly that [low-income] students can achieve at higher standards -- and will -- in our district. ... The only way we can close this achievement gap is by having high standards for all our students," the report said. "We are not promoting high-poverty schools nor are we promoting dispersing our ['poverty'] students into more affluent schools just to try to get an equal balance."

Board president Joseph Brumskill objected to establishing attendance zones which would send children living in Wilmington to Brandywine and Mount Pleasant High but not Concord High. "I will see children from the city be assigned to all three high schools," he said.

"I don't think we should be worrying about where they're going [but about] what happens when they get there," board member Patricia Hearn said.

Scanlon said distribution of the students can work "as long as we're putting resources where we need them."

He emphasized, however, that the drafts presented with the final report are still preliminary. Actual attendance zones are to be determined after the board approves a plan and information about them sent by mail to every residence in the district. But he added, "I think we're getting pretty close" to a final determination.

As previously proposed, the Bush Early Learning Center program would be moved to Brandywood, which would be housed in a newly constructed building. The autism program would be divided between Carrcroft and Mount Pleasant Elementary. The program for 'gifted' students would be at Claymont and Mount Pleasant Elementary and P.S., which is to become a middle school. The International Baccalaureate program would remain at Talley Middle and Mount Pleasant High, with an expansion to Harlan Elementary anticipated in the 2008-09 academic year.

The district has scheduled public hearings on the closure issue on Feb. 6 and 11.

After the board voted to approve the teachers' contract "as discussed in executive session," Scanlon read a summery of its contents, saying that it "is good for our students, good for our teachers and good for our community."

David Bradley, the union's spokesman, told Delaforum that the Brandywine Education Association is satisfied with the agreement. He added that "there are many definitions of 'alternative compensation' and many existing models throughout the United States" and that merit pay "is just one small possible component."

He said the Brandywine union has a little over 800 members, but he declined to reveal the vote by which the contract was ratified.

Scanlon said the 'alternative compensation' committee will begin its work in July and is targeted to complete it by March, 2010. Salaries in the fourth year of the contract "will not become effective until the 'alternative compensation' plan is established and mutually agreed upon," he said.

Meanwhile, teachers, who have been working without a contract so far this academic year, will receive a 4% increase in the locally-financed portion of their salaries, retroactive to Sept. 1, 2007. They will receive another 4% increase in each of the next two years.

Teacher salaries and benefits are by far the largest expenditure in the district's local-money budget. The district pays about 30% of a teacher's salary.

Scanlon said that it "took longer than anticipated" to reach an agreement because of a delay in the start of negotiations as a result of having to wait until voters approved an increase in the district's operations tax rate at the second of two referendums last spring and the innovative nature of the contract's key provisions.

"The district and the association recognize that meeting the needs of students is dependent upon employment of highly qualified and highly motivated professional staff. In the interest of competitively hiring and retaining such staff, the parties have agreed to explore alternative types of compensation ... including, but not limited to, student performance, teacher performance and nontraditional salary schedules," the statement said.

With an apparent view to dealing with the reassignment of teachers when schools are closed, the contract increases the bonus paid for early notification of intention to retire from $1,000 to $5,000 this year and to $3,000 in 2009. It will then revert to $1,000.

The timetable for the voluntary-transfer process was moved up three months and it was agreed that union representatives "will be present at the time voluntary transfer determinations are made."

Also, according to the summary, the administration and union have agreed "to meet to determine a staffing procedure if the [school] board closes, opens or relocates a school or program from one building to another or if the district needs to restructure a school pursuant to state or federal law.

There is a provision in the new contract requiring teachers to "proactively and effectively communicate with [their students'] families."

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Board president objects to diversity part of closure plan

Read previous Delaforum article: Teachers' contract up for approval

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