firm behind its
Darley-school lease decision
listening to nearly an hour of competing testimony from 15
people attending a public hearing who favored either Boys &
Girls Clubs or Odyssey Charter School getting a lease to set up
shop at the Darley Road school site, a majority of the school
board made it clear that they are not about to reverse a
previous decision favoring Boys & Girls Clubs.
Board member Ralph
Ackerman, a resident of Claymont, led the way by declaring that
he considers allowing Boys & Girls Clubs to expand its youth
programs in the soon-to-be-vacated district building would
better serve the area. "Unless I'm required [otherwise] by
law, I'm going to do the best for Claymont," he said.
said, "The board has made it clear you (Odyssey) can be no part
of the Brandywine School District. We will not change the
position we have taken."
"I have an issue
about bringing a charter school in[to] our district," his
colleague Mark Huxoll said.
Cheryl Siskin said
Boys & Girls Clubs "offer an opportunity to do more than what we
can do" for youngsters in the community.
The four constitute
a majority of the seven-member board, which superintendent Jim
Scanlon said will make its "final determination" of the long
discussed issue when it next meets on Apr. 27. At its March
meeting, the board voted unanimously to go with Boys & Girls
Clubs. Brumskill did not attend that meeting, at which the other
six members each expressed strong preferences before voting on a
resolution authorizing Scanlon to begin negotiating a lease with
the nonprofit youth-services organization.
Scanlon told the
public hearing on Apr. 6 that "there is no lease agreement yet."
It appeared at the hearing that
financial considerations easily trumped a contention that state
law requires that a charter school be given preference in the
disposal of any surplus property.
Jen Ballas-Fink, a
member of the Odyssey Charter board of directors, read
provisions in the Delaware Code which appeared to support the
latter position. "The state in its wisdom gave charter schools
preference," she said, adding that Odyssey and 18 other charter
schools had to specifically turn down the opportunity to lease
the Darley Road site before the district could legally contract
with a private organization. A charter school is a public school
and thereby is considered to be a government agency.
While stating that
he did not "favor one side over the other," state representative
Thomas Kovach admonished the board to "make sure [it has]
followed all the proper procedures."
Ellen Cooper said that she and the district's outside counsel,
whom she did not identify, had researched that issue and
determined that "we are not obligated to make Darley school
available to Odyssey."
Basis for that
conclusion, she explained, was the fact that Odyssey's charter
with Red Clay Consolidated School District would not apply to a
location in the Brandywine district. The school would have to
get another charter, and thereby be considered a new school,
before it could claim preference under the law, she said. Since
the Brandywine district has "no intention to grant any charter,"
the new charter would have to come from the state Board of
Education and Brandywine has "no obligation to wait until they
get their charter," Cooper said.
In any event, she
added, receiving first preference would not be the same as being
granted a lease. "If the board were to change its position,
there would have to be arms-length negotiations" concerning
price, maintenance arrangements and other matters and, in the
end, the school board "would have to agree" to a lease agreement
with Odyssey. She did not say so, but, presumably, the same
would apply to a lease agreement with Boys & Girls Clubs.
chief financial officer for the district, told the board that
leasing to Odyssey would 'cost' the district between $500,000
and $700,000, based on the assumption that a school at the
Darley Road site would draw about a fifth of its students from
families living in the Brandywine district. Even if it were to
draw fewer students there would be "a hefty and significant
financial impact to the district."
A suggestion by
Barbara Harbin, treasurer of the Greentree Civic Association,
that the board consider an arrangement by which both Odyssey and
Boys & Girls Clubs could share use of the Darley Road facility,
did not draw a response from the board members or district
administration. She sad the fact that Odyssey operates during
the school day and Boys & Girls Clubs has after-school and
evening programs indicates they would not conflict with each
Harbin earlier in
the hearing had testified that Greentree residents favor leasing
the site, which abuts their community, to Odyssey.
Supporters of the
Boys & Girls Clubs' bid testified that that organization serves
many youngsters who lack motivation and support. "It's more than
just a youth facility. It's a family," Larry Lambert testified.