to determine Darley decision
Darley Road Elementary with a charter school would be "an
affront to the community," according to Debra Heffernan,
president of the Brandywine school board.
"We went through a
painful consolidation process to save a half million dollars by
closing [the school]," she said. "Why are we closing that school
when we're not making [that] cost saving?"
She noted that
parents of its students and other supporters strongly objected
to designating Darley Road as one of two schools to be closed at
the end of this academic year. The other is Hanby Middle, which
is to be replaced by a new building to house Brandywood
Heffernan based her
comments on an estimate by David Blowman, the district's chief
financial officer, that between $655,000 and $1 million would be
'lost' through a combination of payments to Odyssey Charter for
children living in Brandywine district whose parents enroll them
in the charter school and not receiving a portion of state
financial support pegged to district enrollment. Public school
districts are required by state law to pay charter schools,
which are also public schools, the average cost of educating a
child for each child they enroll.
money will be "an overwhelming part of the decision" of whether
to lease the vacated property off Darley Road opposite Ashbourne
Hills to Odyssey Charter or to the Boys & Girls Clubs, which
wants more room to expand its before- and after-school programs
and other activities than is available in the Claymont Community
Center, its present location.
Although no vote
will be taken until the board's scheduled February business
meeting, it was apparent at a 'workshop' session on Jan. 12 that
a majority, if not all, of the seven-person board shared
Blowman appeared to
punctuate that when, in response to a question about what it
would 'cost' the district to accept the Boys & Girls Clubs'
proposal, he gave a one-word answer: "Nothing." Earlier in the
session he said leasing to Odyssey Charter would have "a
significant financial impact on the district."
District lawyer Ellen Cooper told
the board that the law requires it to hold a public hearing
before disposing of property declared surplus. To comply with
public-notice requirements, a hearing could be scheduled between
the January and February meetings or as part of the February
meeting, she said.
president of Odyssey Charter's board of directors, testified
that the charter school would complement, rather than compete
with, Brandywine's curriculum offerings. "If I believed Odyssey
would compromise anything Brandywine does I would have a
problem," he said.
He also said that
his organization "would be happy to engage with the Boys & Girls
Clubs" in cooperative ventures after the normal school day, but
made it clear that Odyssey would fully occupy the Darley Road
building and conduct a full-time school there.
"There is no better
neighbor to a community than a thriving school," Chambers said.
Dennis Quill, vice
president and chief financial officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of
Delaware, said that, although the primary reason it wants to
relocate to Darley Road is to expand its offerings for "a
significantly larger number of teens," its Claymont operation
would not fully occupy the Darley Road building for some time
and that it would sublease unused space. He added that the
organization would be willing to share a portion of the revenue
from subleasing with Brandywine.
Odyssey Charter would apply a 10% 'discount' to payments
Brandywine has to make for its students who enroll in the
charter school. There have been various estimates of how many
that would likely be. At present, 60 children who live in the
Brandywine district attend the dual-language elementary school
Odyssey Charter operates at the Barley Mill office complex in
the Red Clay school district.
Chambers said a
middle school at the Darley Road location would likely be a
'feeder' for Brandywine's three high schools and that would
include students from outside the district who would be
revenue-bearing 'choice' students.
The school has "a
growth plan" which envisions opening a second elementary school
and, possibly, a middle school during the coming three to five
years, he said. But, he added, Odyssey Charter does not
presently have an alternate location in mind should its Darley
Road proposal fail.
Mark Huxsoll said
it did not make sense to "put a school at a location where a
school is being closed because of declining population." He
suggested that Odyssey Charter might do better to look for a
location in the Appoquinimink school district where the
population is growing and is expected to continue to grow.
"As a school board
member I'm focused on the children we have. I do feel you are
competition [and] I see you pulling some resources away from
us," Patricia Hearn said.
Quill said that
Boys & Girls Clubs draw students mostly from the immediate
vicinities of its units. The Claymont operation, however, does
attract patronage from the Marcus Hook, Pa., area. If it
relocates to Darley Road, it probably will have to make some
arrangements to provide transportation, he said.
Noting that whatever the actual
number, opening a charter school in the district would further
drain Brandywine's enrollment, Blowman said. "One of the reasons
for closing schools is to get our physical capacity in line with
our enrollment," he said.
"That half million
[dollars] we are going to lose we could use to develop our own
Chambers said the Odyssey Charter
proposal is not conditioned on its ability to obtain a charter.
He said consultation with the Delaware Department of Education
has determined that simply amending its present charter to
provide for an additional location would suffice. Brandywine
boards and administrations have consistently opposed granting
Odyssey Charter's merits, Chambers came close to making a
serious faux pas when he said, "Odyssey can provide a superior
education opportunity to the community." Hearn bristled at what
she considered an implication he was comparing the charter
school with Brandywine schools.
He denied that he
was making a comparison, adding, "You are doing something right
for the community. ... I would not take away from what you have
Board members Ralph
Ackerman and Joseph Brumskill insisted that any lease the
district enters into should contain a provision that would
enable it to recover the property should there be a turnaround
in the trend toward declining enrollment.
When a member of
the audience, who did not identify herself, sought to comment on
that point, Heffernan ruled public comment was out of order at a
'workshop' session. She said there will be provision for comment
at the board's business meeting. At that point, the woman
pointedly walked out of the meeting.