site is not an easy choice
School District faces a serious dilemma.
since Delaware agreed by state law 13 years ago to participate
in the charter school movement, successive district
administrations and their concurrent school boards have
staunchly resisted granting a charter or otherwise aiding what
they have considered to be significant competition.
Odyssey Charter, a young but apparently successful school, has
come knocking -- not necessarily for a charter but to lease the
district's soon-to-be-vacated Darley Road Elementary School
property. Odyssey Charter is one of two applicants for the
property. The other is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware.
restriction entered into when the former Claymont district
acquired the property gives Colorado Fuel & Iron Corp. the right
of first refusal to buy back the property, for what is now a
ridiculously low amount, if it no longer is to be used for
educational purposes. Colorado Fuel used to own what is now the
Claymont Steel factory. Since Claymont Steel was acquired by a
Russian-related firm last year, the two specialty steel
companies have the same corporate parent.
Brandywine's space-consolidation plan calls for retaining
ownership of the Darley Road site while leasing it to a
non-profit organization which is engaged in education-related
Girls Clubs proposes moving from the Claymont Community Center,
where it conducts various programs including an
after-school-hours one in which youngsters are "engaged in 'fun'
but academically beneficial activities." Brandywine's lawyer has
ruled that qualifies it as serving an education-related
Charter, however, wants to use the building and property for a
It now operates a
kindergarten-through-third-grade school, chartered by the Red
Clay Consolidated School District, in Barley Mill Plaza. In
addition to expanding through fifth grade, it wants to add a
middle school -- extending through eighth grade -- and recently
had its charter changed to permit a larger enrollment and
purchased the former St. Thomas parochial school building in
for the Darley Road property proposes operating either a second
elementary school with an eventual enrollment of 480 to 500
students or a middle school with 360 to 400.
Odyssey Charter offers
a dual-language program. The curriculum integrates the learning
of modern Greek as a second language and uses both to instruct
in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. It is
supported by the American Hellenic Educational
Progressive Association, which seeks to promote Greek culture.
It also has support from the Ministry of Education in Greece,
the Longwood Foundation and other donors.
Charter has told Brandywine that it is willing to seek a charter
from the state Board of Education if the Brandywine board does
not wish to grant one. There is currently a state moratorium on
granting new charters but Odyssey has said it is hopeful that
any revision of the law would continue to authorize state
more of a symbolic than a practical concession. There also is
money at stake.
Presumably the lease would be a token dollar-a-year agreement,
which is what Brandywine charges the Claymont Community Center
and the Old Stone School organization.
law also provides that public school districts each year pay
charter schools an amount equal to their average spending per
student for each student that the charter school educates who
lives within the geographic limits of the district. That amount
for Brandywine is $3,894 this academic year. It varies each year
depending on the size of the district budget and its total
enrollment. It has risen annually in Brandywine since the
2001-02 fiscal year.
of its continuing evaluation of the competing bids, Brandywine's
chief financial officer David Blowman was asked to compute the
likely amount of additional payments to Odyssey Charter if it
locates on Brandywine turf and attracts students living in the
district, whether they attend Brandywine schools or go to a
told the board at its Dec. 15 meeting that, based on the current
rate, the full 'cost' would range upward from $625,000 if "only"
144 Brandywine youngsters are enrolled. That was the figure
Odyssey Charter gave the district as the lower end of its likely
local enrollment. That could increase to slightly over $1
million if the same percentage of local enrollments is applied
to the top end of Odyssey Charter's projected total enrollment,
Road Elementary has a rated capacity of 500 students. Its
current enrollment is 262.
currently 60 students living in the Brandywine district
attending Odyssey Charter. They were not included in Blowman's
Brandywine's total charter school payment is just over $2.2
million to 11 schools.
prompted board member Ralph Ackerman to inquire whether the
district has made a special effort to attempt to persuade
parents of charter school students to "come back to us."
Superintendent Jim Scanlon replied that expansion of the 'gifted
student' program through eighth grade and offering the
International Baccalaureate program at all levels should be
attractive to some. "We've done things with programs, but
haven't gone house to house," he said.
charter schools payments are partly offset this year by nearly
$610,000 Brandywine is netting from a favorable balance in the
number of students making use of the state public-school-choice
law and attending schools in other districts. In all, 149
Brandywine students have opted out of the district while 377
have elected to come to Brandywine.
It is too
early to tell if that ratio will be significantly altered during
the next school year when closure of Darley Road Elementary and
Hanby Middle reduces Brandywine's total capacity. Scanlon has
said that, even with two fewer schools and a rush if
intradistrict transfer requests, Brandywine will still have room
for choice transfers from outside the district.
public comment section of recent Brandywine board meetings have
included several speakers who have endorsed Odyssey Charter's
program and its bid to locate in the district. Boys & Girls
Clubs has not had a similar expression.
happens there also is another vacant school building within the
Brandywine District. Holy Rosary parochial school closed last
June and the building in Claymont is listed with a real estate
agency for lease. That property would not seem to be as
attractive as the larger Darley Road property, which is
surrounded by a campus in a glade set back from the road.
of the Darley Road property is scheduled to come before the
board at a 'workshop' session in January and be ready for a
decision later that month or in February.