January  3,  2008

Brandywine board expected
to accept closure choices

Brandywine schools superintendent Jim Scanlon strongly indicated that the school board will chose among Carrcroft and Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle when it decides in February which schools to close to reduce overcapacity in the district.

He told an overflow crowd of about 150 people at the final informational meeting before the space-consolidation committee presents a recommendation to the board that there is little to no likelihood the board will seek reconsideration of the committee's choices.

As Delaforum has previously reported, the committee will offer at least two scenarios. One would close Darley Road and Hanby and the other would include Carrcroft with those two.

In response to a question after his presentation, Scanlon acknowledged that the committee did not consider a plan linking Carrcroft and Hanby. He did not indicate whether that combination might be put on the table as the committee finishes 'tweaking' its recommendations. Its original charge was to present two or three options to the board.

The committee's 'tweaking' involves defining attendance areas for the remaining schools and the 'feeder' progression students will follow from the elementary through middle grades to high school. "Economic diversity is the key piece in this," Scanlon said.

In a separate context earlier in the meeting on Jan. 2, school board president Joseph Brumskill said, "I support him (Scanlon) as all the board members do."

Scanlon reiterated that closures are necessary "in order to protect, maintain and expand [academic] programs" and are "the fiscally responsible thing to do."

He said that since the board in 2004 was dissuaded from closing Hanby and Brandywood Elementary, the district has 'lost' about 500 more students. Current districtwide enrollment is 10,210 while rated capacity of its schools is 13,084. The capacity number is based on Brandywine's program requirements. If the state capacity formula were used, it would close to 14,000.

"Unfortunately, we have too many schools and not enough kids going to them," Scanlon said.

He pointed out it will be the first restructuring undertaken since the Brandywine district was spun off from a consolidated countywide district in 1981. The consolidated district was formed in 1978 to comply with a federal court order to racially desegregate northern Delaware schools. Brandywine inherited the former Claymont, Alfred I. du Pont and Mount Pleasant districts and about a fourth of the former Wilmington Public Schools district. Several schools in all of those areas were eliminated in the consolidation.

"I did not become a superintendent to close schools. ... I don't enjoy doing this," Scanlon said during his opening remarks at the meeting. "It's a very emotional process. ... I know we're not going to please everybody."

For the most part, the overflow crowd seemed content to ask questions rather than to vent feelings. Five asked that Darley Road be spared the axe and one spoke in support of keeping Hanby open.

The woman who raised the idea of  linking Carrcroft and Hanby said she felt that "Darley Road has been singled out [to be closed] from the beginning." Scanlon said he has "made it a point to be very open in this whole process." He said he has personally taken about 250 telephone calls about the issue and responded to a countless number of  e.mail messages.

He told the meeting that the board has scheduled a public-comment session following the 'workshop' meeting on Jan. 7 at which it will receive the committee's report. Also, he said, there will be an unspecified number of public hearings in February before the board makes its decision, probably at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Feb. 25. Actual closure of schools will not occur until after the 2008-09 academic year.

Scanlon said numerous details, including where the district's various special programs and its administrative offices, will be located will be provided in time for consideration at the February public hearings. He emphasized that no programs will be dropped as the result of the closures and that the same number of state-authorized teachers will staff fewer schools.

He said there have been talks with their union about how to reassign teachers from the closed schools. Normal practice would be to allow options based on seniority, but Scanlon said he is concerned that such choices might result in some schools having predominantly long-serving teachers and others relatively new ones.

Also, he said, the plan will be specific about what is to be done with the closed buildings. He said he already has had preliminary discussions with such organizations as the Y.M.C.A. and the Boys and Girls Club, which need space for their children and youth activities.

There also will be 'transition teams' set up to deal with issues involving individual students impacted by the changes "so we have that personal touch for our children." He said he also is considering a way to permit high school students who otherwise would be affected to remain in the school in which they begin their high school years.

He said there are talks underway with the Delaware Department of Education concerning whether already authorized capital expenses, such as the cost of renovating Hanby, can be used instead to cover any required refitting of buildings to accommodate the new grade configuration. "We think there [will be] enough savings in the closing of schools to do things with [other] properties" without having to go to referendum, Scanlon said.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Separate Claymont school district proposed

Access Brandywine School Districts space-consolidation webpage

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