Cape Henlopen school board members all agree they need to fix racial imbalances at the two Milton elementary schools, but their solutions vary.
"We don't have a responsibility to racially balance our schools. We have to prevent our schools from being imbalanced by allowing school choice by race," said board Vice President Spencer Brittingham.
Meeting April 11, Cape school board specifically discussed the racial imbalance that exists between predominately white Milton Elementary and H.O. Brittingham Elementary, which serves mostly minority children. The two elementary schools lie less than a mile apart.
"I've heard that people don't want their kids to go to a Mexican or black school," Brittingham said.
Board member Sandi Minard said she has heard similar comments.
"Kids are choiced out of HOB because they don't want to be in a black school," she said.
One way to fix the racial imbalance would be to stop accepting school choice applications into Milton Elementary, Brittingham said.
"That way no one can say I don't want to go to HOB for this or that," Brittingham said. "That in itself will address any racial imbalance."
In addition to ending school choice into Milton Elementary based on racial preference, the board discussed two other ways to better balance the school populations: building a large "super school" on the HOB property and redrawing feeder patterns for the schools.
Brittingham continued to promote building a super school that would house 1,200 to 1,400 students on the HOB site. Some board members recently toured a super school in Bear, the Kathleen Wilbur School, built to house a school within a school. Younger grades and older grades are grouped together – both take advantage of large common space and a kitchen that serves two separate cafeterias.
"You don't feel like it is a super school," said board member Jen Burton. "It has the feeling of a small school."
While Brittingham, Minard and Burton are open to the super school concept, board members Roni Posner and Sara Wilkinson flat out oppose the idea of large schools.
"I have a hard time agreeing to a school of that magnitude and size," Wilkinson said. "Bigger doesn't mean better."
"You don't put little kids into a big factory," she said.
Board President Andy Lewis said he is opposed to racial separation in Milton, but he's not sold on the super school concept, either.
"I'm not sure how a super school is the answer if it's something we can change with racial boundaries," he said. "What solves the HOB issue is this board doing something other than what the board has done before."
Overall, he said, the super school would do little to ease overcrowding – his main concern.
Community input wanted
Board members said they need community input as they move forward with the new school plan. All agreed that a meeting in the Milton community is necessary before finalizing a plan on the future Milton schools. Tensions were high in 2011, the last time the board discussed the possibility of combining the two schools. The meeting room was literally split down the middle, with some teachers and parents in support of consolidating the schools and others against it.
"I think it's imminent that we go to the community now," Wilkinson said.
A date and place has not been set for a community meeting in Milton.