Cape board still debating future of elementary schools

H.O. Brittingham, Milton elementaries at center of discussions
April 2, 2013

Cape Henlopen school board members appear set to tackle the question of how to consolidate two Milton elementary schools.

"It's the elephant in the room, and if we don't address it, the doggone elephant is going to have a baby," said board Vice President Spencer Brittingham. The board needs to reach a decision on what to do with Milton Elementary and H.O. Brittingham Elementary, two Milton schools about a mile apart that serve significantly different student populations, he said.

School board member Sandi Minard agreed. "It's the start of the discussion. We have to address the issue," Minard said.

In previous meetings, board member Noble Prettyman firmly stated he was in favor or combining Milton Elementary and H.O. Brittingham Elementary into one large school. Based on a general consensus, Superintendent Robert Fulton said more discussion of the issue is needed.

Recent discussion revolved around the benefit of smaller schools as opposed to larger ones. A Facilities Task Force that met for nine months before presenting its proposal Feb. 28 to the school board recommended building new schools to house up to 700 students for Shields, Rehoboth and H.O.B. elementaries and renovations for Milton Elementary. The task force proposal also included a new, fifth elementary to be built west of Route 1, but there was no mention of consolidating Milton and H.O.B.

"We're going to have to start meeting more to finalize the plans," Fulton said, referring to special meetings needed to address new elementary schools.

Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, in attendance at the March 28 meeting, said the size of a school does not define whether it will be successful.

"For a school to succeed, you need a great set of systems," he said.

Board action

Sussex Consortium will take over the entire Lewes School under a plan unanimously agreed by Cape Henlopen school board. Under plans approved March 28, the board decided to move district administration and adult learning classes now in the Lewes School to the nearby Fred Thomas Building, making room for the entire Sussex Consortium program at Lewes School.

The board has decided to move forward with the consortium plan as it continues discussing the elementary school proposal.

The consortium move would involve about 25 students who receive education in the Fred Thomas building, a district facility that sits on the east side of a Lewes complex that includes the Lewes School and Shields Elementary. Costs to improve the Lewes School would be about $25,000 with another $10,000 for a portable air conditioning unit to cool the gymnasium unless the district chooses to lease one, said Brian Bassett, director of administrative services.

Costs to ready the Fred Thomas building to house district administration offices and the Osher Lifelong Learning campus would be about $14,000, he said.

The state Department of Education pays 100 percent of consortium building expenses, but the state paid for a new roof and boiler system for the Fred Thomas building last year, when consortium students were using the building. The new expenses will be paid out of local funds, Bassett said. The $14,000 will come out of maintenance funds and the $25,000 for the Lewes School could come out of a combination of minor capital funds or tuition tax, he said.

The Osher Lifelong Learning, a program run by the University of Delaware, requested a 5-year lease in anticipation of the move and because the program's 3-year lease is coming to an end.

However, both Brittingham and board member Jen Burton said they were not comfortable granting a 5-year extension at this time.

"As a board member I have not been told how much they pay. I'm in the dark and really frustrated," she said.

The board gave Fulton permission to negotiate a new contract with Osher so that the contract would not automatically roll over April 1 for a year extension at the Lewes School.

Contract information was not immediately available, and no new contract has been agreed to.

The school board also approved spending $12,500 on a University of Delaware population study to determine where future district growth will occur – information the board needs as it discusses the district plan for new elementary schools.


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