October 2009

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TEACHER-OF-THE-YEAR: Mary Pinkston, who teaches mathematics at Brandywine High, was named teacher-of-the-year by the state Department of Education. She was the seventh Brandywine School District teacher to receive the award in the 46-year history of the annual recognition program. Pinkston has spent all of her teaching career in the district. It began in 1992 at Mount Pleasant High. She graduated cum laude from the University of Delaware in that year and since has earned a masters degree from the university. The award includes a $5,000 state grant to be used for the educational benefit of her students and two personal grants totaling the same amount. The selection process included classroom observations, portfolio reviews and consideration by a representative panel.


Half of Brandywine School District's 16 buildings have experienced double-digit percentage increases in enrollment as the result of closing two buildings and realigning grade structures.

Data made available to Delaforum at a meeting of the school board on Oct. 26 showed that Springer Middle, which was reopened following a year-long renovation, had the largest increase -- 61.8% -- over the number of its students housed in the high-rise Burnett building in north Wilmington during the 2008-09 academic year. Tally Middle's enrollment increased 43.7%, Carrcroft Elementary's 41.7% and Brandywood Elementary's 40.3%. Harlan, which was converted from an intermediate school to an elementary school, saw a 22% decrease in its student population and Claymont, which went from an intermediate to a middle school, 'lost' 19.9%. Requested information about the buildings' rated capacity was not provided.

Despite an expected move away from non-public schools as a result of the recession, districtwide enrollment increased only three-tenths of 1% to 10,366. The data was not presented to the board at the public meeting, but had been distributed to board members in advance of  the meeting. None had any comment. Other buildings with enrollment increases were elementary schools -- Lombardy, 28.9%; Lancashire, 27.3%; Mount Pleasant, 24.5%; and Forwood, 22.2%. Enrollment declines occurred at P.S. du Pont Middle, 2.9% and Maple Lane Elementary, 4.1%. Among the high schools, which weren't realigned, Concord's enrollment grew by 1.1% while Mt. Pleasant 'lost' 7.9% and Brandywine declined 2.2%. Bush Early Education Center has 6.9% fewer students this year than last. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


VACCINE COMINGSchool children throughout Delaware will receive, free of charge, a vaccination against swine flu if their parents or guardians approve. Superintendent Mark Holodick confirmed that the Brandywine district will participate in the Division of Public Health program, but said that, as yet, no timetable for giving the shots has been issued. He advised families to speak with their pediatrician and-or primary-care physician to determine whether or not they should participate.  School nurses will be the point persons for questions about the vaccination process at any school. Kumba Academy, a charter school in Wilmington, closed for several days as the result of having several flu cases among its students. Other schools have been experiencing higher-than-usual absenteeism.

A responder at the Division of Public Health said the program is being arranged by the state Department of Education. Ron Gough, official spokesman for the department, did not reply to a Delaforum request for information. As a result, it could not be determined if other than public schools will be included in the program. Nor could its cost and the source of financing be learned. The going rate for shots to guard against regular flu is $25 a dose. According to published reports, national distribution of the H-1-N-1 vaccine is lagging. Officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention had expected about 40 million doses to be distributed by the end of October, but it looks now as though a maximum of 28 million to 30 million doses will actually be shipped.


ADS BILL TABLED: Some County Council members thought it might be a good idea, but with several unsure about the groundrules president Paul Clark postponed action on his proposed ordinance to authorize county government to sell advertising. Amid inevitable stabs at humor -- "Are we going to put bail-bond ads on police cars?" -- members at a budget committee meeting on Oct. 13 raised several constitutional and ethical issues. Nicole Majeski, County Executive Christopher Coons's chief of staff, said the measure "just allows us to move ahead" and promised that Council will be able to weigh in on rules now being drafted. The Ethics Commission, she said, has declined to pass judgment on what is and what is not appropriate until the administration has specific authority to proceed.

Robert Weiner, who is a lawyer, said free-speech rights could preclude discriminating against promoting undesirable products -- tobacco of alcohol ads in county libraries, for instance. John Cartier and William Bell both said they would be adamant in opposing any advertising on public safety vehicles. On the other hand, Lisa Diller said that "there are other places that have been doing this and it has been successful." But David Tackett countered by saying he has "huge reservations about hanging up a 'for sale' sign on New Castle County." And Jea Street added, "I don't think that we're that broke." County attorney Gregg Wilson offered to "brief Council in executive session" before the administration submits proposed guidelines for an ethics review. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


DEVELOPMENT PROCESS CHANGED: With a nine-to-two vote, County Council approved condensing the review process for rezonings and major development plans. Before the vote, David Culver, general manager of the Department of Land Use, testified that the change was intended "to make people as comfortable with our planning process as we can." Nothing in the ordinance changes the criteria by which development proposals will be considered, he maintained.  Council president Paul Clark chided the Civic League for New Castle County for allegedly employing "scare tactics" by basing its public objections to the measure on points other than what is actually stated in the ordinance. Voting against the ordinance were William Powers and Jea Street. William Bell abstained from voting.

In another significant matter having to do with land use and development, Council on Oct. 13 approved a replacement for the never-used 'village and hamlet" section of the Unified Development Code. It would enable a developer to provide for a variety of uses and construct residences and commercial buildings with varying density on large tracts. That is now referred to as 'smart growth'. Although co-sponsored by John Cartier and Robert Weiner, who represent Brandywine Hundred, the development option will be available only in the 'growth zone' south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Lisa Diller and David Tackett joined Powers in voting against that measure. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


LEASES APPROVED: Boys & Girls Clubs of Claymont will pay $1,000 a month for the former Darley Road School site under terms of a 10-year lease with Brandywine School District. The money will go into a reserve fund to assure the property is properly maintained. When the fund reaches $100,000, rent will drop to $1 a month. The agreement approved unanimously without discussion at a school board meeting on Oct. 12 permits the district to use the building to house an 'alternative-to-suspension' disciplinary program during the hours its schools are in session. If neither party opts out, the lease will automatically renew for 10 years on Sept. 30, 2019 and 2029. A separate lease gives Claymont Little League use of the Dyer Field baseball complex on the property for $1 a year for the same terms. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


With County Council poised to enact a sweeping change in how rezonings and major land-use plans are approved, there is a split among major civic organizations which traditionally have been most heavily involved in the process.

At issue is a measure, sponsored by Councilman George Smiley, which would delay the initial opportunity for civic associations and individual members of the public to formally express views on such proposals until after the Department of Land Use and state agencies concerned with their various aspects have had an opportunity to work with developers to massage the plans. As things stand now, the initial Planning Board hearing occurs at the exploratory stage. David Culver, general manager of the department, which is advocating the change, said it permits affected parties to provide 'input' "far enough along [in the approval process] that you know what you're going to run into, but no so far along that you can't [bring about] a change."

Culver announced at a meeting of officers of areawide civic groups on Oct. 7 that the proposed ordinance has backing from Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred and Seven & 40 Alliance among others. He did so in the face of strenuous opposition from the Civic League for New Castle County which argues that it diminishes the public's ability to influence land-use decisions by accelerating the process to benefit developers. Prologue of the proposed ordinance says it will "simplify" the process by substituting a two-step review process for the three-step process used since the Uniform Development Code was enacted nearly 11 years ago. An 'executive summary' prepared by the department said that will "promote economic development by reducing total review times."

Council at its meeting on Oct. 13 is expected to also enact a new 'smart growth' development option to replace the code's 'village and hamlet' provision, which has never been used.


Hundreds of Brandywine Hundred householders may be in for an unpleasant surprise when county government completes work on a plan to drastically reduce the amount of 'clean water' infiltrating into the sanitary sewer system.

Mike Svaby, general manager of the Department of Special Services, told a County Council committee that there are more than 3,600 illegal hookups -- primarily from sump pumps and basement floor drains -- most of which are in the northernmost hundred. He said they can pour as much as 28.5 million gallons of rain water into the system during a "storm event." County government is under an Environmental Protection Agency order to either come up with a way to keep the unwanted liquid out or construct a treatment facility capable of processing it by the end of December, 2010. Although the problem has been recognized for some time, the deadline has placed it squarely on the front burner.

The administration is "analyzing our alternatives," Svaby said at the committee meeting on Oct. 6, but he did not not indicate what they are. "We're a couple of weeks away from providing a solid recommendation," he said. The basic question obviously is who pays for a solution. Since connecting the pumps to the sewer, instead of having them discharge outside, and providing drains to get rid of basement water was a generally accepted -- and apparently legal -- building practice when the northern suburbs were built, homeowners can argue they are 'grandfathered' against any new law. Council president Paul Clark suggested that metering future sewer flow and basing sewer fees on the volume could be a way to cover long-term financing of a government-sponsored solution.

Other Council members pointed out that simply requiring converting present systems to ones that provide external discharge could in many cases increase run-off flows to an extent that would exceed the capacity of storm sewers.


LEASE SIGNED: Brandywine School District has signed a lease with the Claymont Boys & Girls Clubs for use of the former Darley Road School property. Acting superintendent Andy Brandenberger confirmed that a vague reference to the lease on the posted agenda for the 'action' segment of a school board meeting scheduled for Oct. 12 was intended to satisfy the legal requirement for advance public notice of a board vote to approve the lease. He did not disclose its terms or say whether they will be discussed in public at the meeting. Also scheduled for Oct. 12 is a 'workshop' session having to do with the district's recently completed realignment. Darley Road was one of two schools closed in that process.

As previously reported, the school board in July turned down an appeal by Odyssey Charter School of its decision to lease the closed building and at least a portion of the property to the nonprofit youth organization. Odyssey, the other applicant to use the property, claimed that, as a public school, it had a right of first refusal under the state law covering disposal of surplus property. The charter school has since appealed to the state Board of Education. A state board hearing examiner took testimony on the matter on Sept. 23 prior to making a recommendation to the board. As far as Delaforum can determine, that recommendation is still pending. No official will say what effect a state board decision favoring Odyssey would have on a duly executed lease agreement. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


HORSES TO STAY: County mounties will continue to stable their mounts at Carousel Park. Upon reconsideration of a decision to re-locate them to a private facility it was determined that the cost of staying put would range between $75,000 and $80,000, compared to between $105,000 and $135,000, the lowest outside bids received, according to Mike Svaby, general manager of the Department of Special Services. Although there apparently was no plan to eliminate the mounted unit, some people interpreted moving its horses as an indication that was in the offing. The unit will be reduced from eight to six with the retirement of two of the horses. "The mounted patrol is valuable. Once we loose [the horses], we'll never get them back," Councilman David Tackett said at a committee meeting on Oct. 6.


DETAILS DISCLOSED: Like their public safety colleagues, county police officers, paramedics and 9-1-1 operators escaped the 5% pay cuts that most other county government employees have taken this fiscal year. Instead, they'll kick in and additional $100 a month toward the cost of health insurance and, as a group, forego some overtime opportunities. County spokesman C.R. McLeod told Delaforum that and other terms of the recently negotiated contract with their union were an equivalent cost reduction. While releasing details of the agreement at Delaforum's request, he said paramedic trainees laid off last spring will not be rehired -- "per the request of the union" -- but will have a right of first refusal to take positions which open up because of retirements. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


AGREEMENT REACHED: County Executive Christopher Coons's office announced approval of a two-year labor contract with the union representing 160 paramedics and 9-1-1 operators. A terse press statement issued on Oct. 1 said the agreement, ratified by union members on Sept. 30, provides for $610,000 in 'givebacks', but provided only a sketchy explanation of how that was calculated. It said the administration has pledged there will be no layoffs during the life of the contract, which expires on June 30, 2011, but does not address the status of nine paramedic trainees laid off last spring when the union balked at 5% pay cuts which other county employees, except police, took. County spokesman C.R. McLeod did not respond to a Delaforum request for clarifications. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Last updated on October 28, 2009

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