September 2008

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MIXED-USE COMPLEX DEFENDED: Development along the Concord Pike corridor is necessary to enable Woodlawn Trustees to continue providing rental housing for families with limited incomes in Wilmington while promoting land-conservation in the area, according to Elke McGinley, president of the organization. She told a community meeting sponsored by the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred that, while about 500 acres next to the highway "will be developed for the benefit of the community and Woodlawn," the 1,000 or so acres along the Brandywine will be preserved as open space.

The meeting on Sept. 25 was called to provide Stoltz Real Estate Partners with a forum to present information about the large commercial and residential project it proposes to erect on Woodlawn land at the Concord Pike and Beaver Valley-Naamans Road intersection. The firm gave a previously shown Power Point presentation. When an attender soon after that questioned the need for additional retail establishments, Stoltz lawyer Pam Scott insisted on adhering to an agreed-upon format of taking questions in separate small-group sessions in lieu of open discussion. About 40 members of the general public were at the meeting. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


TICKETS REPORT: County code enforcers issued 2,368 violation tickets to 803 property owners during the first two months of the 'instant' ticketing enforcement program, County Council was told. Of the properties cited, 256 came into compliance after receiving the ticket and another 857 did so during the 12-day grace period after receiving a warning letter before a ticket was issued, Al Washington, of the Department of Land Use, told a Council committee meeting on Sept. 23. He said the largest number of complaints involved an accumulation of junk and debris with overgrown grass and weeds the second most frequent complaint. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


The Brandywine school board approved a $136.9 million preliminary operating budget, up 5.3% from last year, with a projected $6.7 million surplus for the current fiscal year.

While financial officer David Blowman told the board before its unanimous vote on Sept. 22 that district finances are "on track," he warned that state government's financial situation is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the district. "It looks like it's going to be another grim year," he said. "We have to be very careful about how we spend out money," superintendent Jim Scanlon added. As a result of cuts in budgeted state spending, Brandywine 'lost' about $1.1 million. The approved budget contains $938,000 in service cuts, including mandatory summer school and staff development, with additional ones being considered.

As previously reported, the district is experiencing an increase in enrollment of about 150 students, mainly as a result of initiating full-day kindergarten. Blowman said closure of a charter school in Wilmington and failure of two others to meet federal No Child Left Behind Act standards has reduced the number of Brandywine students in charter schools by about 80 from a record 637 last academic year. When the official student headcount is completed at the end of September, Brandywine expects to have 670 state-authorized teaching positions, up from 643 last year.


'CHOICE' POLICY: Because it will have two fewer schools in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Brandywine School District "isn't going to be as generous as it has in the past" in honoring applications submitted under the state's school-choice law, according to district lawyer Ellen Cooper. Because of excess capacity, she said, more than 95% of applicants received their first choice to alternative assignments. The loss of seats available for 'choiced' students is a necessary trade-off for closing schools in order to be able to "direct more money to classrooms," superintendent Jim Scanlon said. "We can't have it both ways."

Looking for a rush of applications as a result of closure-related changes in attendance zones, Cooper presented and the school board at its meeting on Sept. 22 unanimously approved a 'choice' policy authorizing a new procedure for receiving and processing applications. Kim Mathews, head of the district Parent-Teacher Association Council, cautioned that the plan to receive applications in person on a first-come-first-served basis beginning at 7 a.m. on Nov. 3 carries the risk of problems as parents vie to be at or near the head of the line. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


A relatively small portion of Brandywine School District students had disciplinary referrals during the last academic year, but there was an increase in the number of reportable incidents.

Members of the district's just-formed discipline committee were told at its recent initial meeting that 4,703 students, or 4.6% of the total, were involved in disciplinary activity, down slightly from 4,769, also 4.6%, during the 2006-07 year. There were, however, 169 incidents which reached the level required to be reported to police as criminal activity and 1,373 that had to be reported to Delaware Department of Education. The numbers from the previous year were 148 and 1,241, respectively. There were increases in reportable incidents in the elementary and intermediate grades with middle and high schools showing drops.

The school board expelled 38 students during the 2007-08 year, down from 46 the previous year, but up from 22 in 2005-06. Ellen Cooper, the district's lawyer, said most expulsions and disciplinary problems occur among ninth-graders. The committee was told that of the total 28,509 disciplinary referrals last year, 15,572, or 54.6%, were for lateness either to school or to class or skipping class. "We're spending a lot of time on a few kids" who cause problems, superintendent Jim Scanlon said. The committee is to make recommendations to the school board for more consistent discipline policies and enforcement and preventive programs. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.


REVENUE ESTIMATES:  Despite an infusion of an estimated $144.1 million as a result of financial measures enacted by the General Assembly, the state's official forecasters expect only modest revenue growth -- 1.8% this fiscal year and 1.3% in fiscal 2010. Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council's revenue committee was told on Sept. 12 that Global Insights, the state's economy consultant, is still looking for "a short, shallow recession but the brunt of it still lies ahead of us." The federal economic stimulus package, it said, pushed recession back into the fourth quarter of this year and the first of quarter of 2009.(CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


FULLY SUBSCRIBED: Brandywine School District is offering only full-day kindergarten this academic year. Superintendent Jim Scanlon said only nine parents opted to enroll their children in half-day classes and all but one family have since agreed to enter the full-day program. State law required districts to offer shorter sessions if at least 18 children were enrolled. Brandywine and neighboring Red Clay districts, combined, barely came up to that level, he said. According to preliminary enrollment data, Brandywine has about 770 kindergarteners, about 120 more than last academic year.


Students displaced by Brandywine's school closings will get first call on 'choicing' into a school other than the one to which they're assigned, but parents will have to get up early if there's a rush.

When it next meets on Sept. 22, the school board is scheduled to vote on revising the district's procedure for honoring applications under the state's school-choice law to put displaced students and others whose attendance zone will be changed when Hanby Middle and Darley Road Elementary are shut down next year into the first of five groups of applicants ranked by priority. Children already attending a school under the 'choice' program also will be in that group. Their brothers and sisters fall into the second-ranked category. The board also will determine how many 'choice' slots will be available in each school.

Superintendent Jim Scanlon said the district will continue to consider 'choice' applications on a first-come-first-served basis. Another procedure revision will move the starting point for accepting applications to 7 a.m. on Nov. 3, when, under the law, a two-month open-enrollment period begins. In past years, the starting time was 8 a.m. "We've not had people camp out [overnight], but they get here pretty early in the morning," Scanlon said at a board 'workshop' meeting on Sept. 8 at which it received the proposed revisions. "We think it will be a very fair process," he said referring to the expected new arrangement.

The board also was told that preliminary figures show district enrollment in the new academic year to be 10,280, up from 10,118 last year. The increase was attributed to full-day kindergarten and closure of an elementary-grades charter school in Wilmington.


IT'S APPARENTLY WORKING: Seven pending development plans include provisions for a total of 475 'workforce housing' units, considerably more than double the 200-units first-year target set by the ordinance which allows builders increased density in return for  voluntarily providing a portion of  residences that households with moderate incomes can afford to buy. James Smith, acting co-general manager of the Department of Land Use, told officers of area-wide civic organizations that two of the seven proposals are revisions of approved plans. Not included is the approved plan for Renaissance Village in Claymont which provided for 'affordable' housing before the ordinance was enacted. 

At a meeting with Jeffrey Bullock, County Executive Christopher Coons's chief administrative officer, on Sept. 4, Frances West, president of the Civic League for New Castle County, objected to approving increased density without providing for  increased traffic volume and other infrastructure on the basis of "vague generalizations" about the need for such housing. "It's a nice catchphrase ... [but] are there really people waiting to get into these units?" she said. "Someone is going to have to put the brakes on some of this stuff." Bullock said that much of the objection to such housing is the result of its "negative connotations." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on September 26, 2008

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