CHAPTER 287

FORMERLY

HOUSE SUBSTITUTE NO. 1

FOR

HOUSE BILL NO. 300

AS AMENDED BY SENATE AMENDMENT NO. 9

AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS.

WHEREAS, a public school system where children attend schools in their community and close to their homes has broad support among Delawareans;

WHEREAS, most parents prefer that their children attend schools close to their homes and in their communities thereby minimizing transportation time between home and school;

WHEREAS, reducing the need for extended transportation to and from school better enables children to arrive at schools rested and ready to learn;

WHEREAS, neighborhood schools foster a sense of pride in the community and can serve as a focal point for community activities;

WHEREAS, it is crucial that parents have significant input at the local level in terms of where their children attend school;

WHEREAS, feeder patterns decisions traditionally have been made at the local level thereby providing parents significant input in those decisions;

WHEREAS, the State recognizes that the Appoquinimink School District and existing non vocational school districts in Kent and Sussex Counties may want to consider alternative attendance feeder patterns and/or grade configurations;

WHEREAS, Delaware’s schools in Northern New Castle County were subject to a Federal Consent Decree for many years which mandated certain school feeder patterns but that consent decree has been lifted;

WHEREAS, children living in the City of Wilmington currently attend schools in the Brandywine School District, the Red Clay School District, Christiana School District or the Colonial School District; and

WHEREAS, it is important that any plan for neighborhood schools is fair to all children and that all residents of Northern New Castle County have input in what schools their children attend and how those schools are run.

NOW, THEREFORE:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE.

Section 1. This Act shall be known as the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000.

Section 2. Amend Title 14, Delaware Code by designating current § 202 through § 207 as “Subchapter I. System of Free Public Schools” and inserting as new subchapter II the following:

“Subchapter II. Neighborhood schools.

§ 220. Purpose

It is the intent and purpose of the General Assembly through this subchapter to establish and implement a plan for neighborhood schools in Northern New Castle County that is fair and equitable to all affected children in New Castle County.

§ 221. Definitions.

(1) 'District' or 'districts' means Brandywine School District, Colonial School District, Christina School District, and/or Red Clay Consolidated School District, either jointly or severally, as context indicates.

(2) 'Committee' means the Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee.

(3) 'Plan' means a Neighborhood School Plan.

§ 223. Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee.

(a) The Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee shall consist of seventeen (17) members as follows:

(1) Two members designated by the Mayor of the City of Wilmington;

(2) Three members designated by the President of City Council for the City of Wilmington;

(3) One member designated by the Governor with such member being a resident of the City of Wilmington;

(4) One member designated by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate with such member being a resident of the City of Wilmington;

(5) One member designated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives with such member being a resident of the City of Wilmington;

(6) Two members representing the Wilmington business community designated by the Mayor;

(7) One member from a community based organization designated by the Mayor;

(8) One member from a community based organization designated by the President of City Council;

(9) One member from each of the four school boards with such persons serving from a Wilmington nominating district; and

(10) One member residing in the City of Wilmington and representing the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District.

(b) Each member shall serve at the pleasure of the holder of the office or the entity having the authority to appoint the member to the Committee. The Chairperson of the Committee shall be designated by the Mayor from the seventeen members and serve as Chairperson at the pleasure of the Mayor. The majority of the Committee shall constitute a quorum and no motion or resolution of the Committee may be adopted without the approval of a majority of its members.

(c) The Committee shall not be compensated but shall be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary travel expenses incurred in connection with the performance of its official duties. Funding for the research and analysis required by this section shall also be provided by the Department of Education.

(d) The Committee shall review and analyze current public school feeder patterns, current resource allocations among the districts, current populations of children residing in the City of Wilmington attending public schools and population projections for children residing in the City of Wilmington likely to attend public schools in the future.

(e) Based on the information and analysis, the Committee shall submit recommendations to the Mayor of the City of Wilmington and the City Council by January 3, 2001 concerning the creation of a Wilmington School District, neighborhood schools within the current district configurations or neighborhood schools under some alternative district configuration. The recommendations shall identify specific time-lines for implementation as well as specific actions, legislative or otherwise, required to implement the recommendations. The recommendations shall also estimate the costs or savings both in terms of capital expense and/or operational expense based on existing unit count allocations and the required local match. Prior to submitting the recommendations, the Committee shall hold at least five (5) public hearings to take testimony and questions from members of the public and other interested stakeholders.

(f) Upon review and consideration of the Committee’s recommendations, the City Council and the Mayor of the City of Wilmington shall forward their plan on behalf of the City of Wilmington to the General Assembly by March 15, 2001. The plan shall identify specific time-lines for implementation as well as specific actions, legislative or otherwise, required to implement the recommendations. The plan shall also estimate the costs or savings both in terms of capital expense and/or operational expense based on existing unit count allocations and the required local match. The General Assembly shall act on the plan by June 30, 2001.

§ 224 Neighborhood School Plans

(a) In the context of the plan submitted, or lack thereof, pursuant to § 223(f) of this subchapter and any action taken by the General Assembly and the Governor to implement the Wilmington plan, the school boards of Brandywine School District, Colonial School District, Christina School District, and Red Clay Consolidated School District shall develop a Neighborhood School Plan for their districts that assigns every student within the district to the grade-appropriate school closest to the student's residence, without regard to any consideration other than geographic distance and the natural boundaries of neighborhoods. Notwithstanding the above, the Plan may assign students to schools based on factors other than geographic distance and natural neighborhood boundaries if a substantial hardship to a school or school district, student, or a student's family exists; provided, that, no student shall be assigned to any school on the basis of race and school assignments shall be made without regard to the racial composition of the schools. Districts may consider as part of their neighborhood school plans, inter-district school assignments for individual schools, with the concurrence of other districts, to the extent such assignments further the purposes of this Act.

(b) Neighborhood School Plans shall consist of the following grade configurations:

(1) A lower-level school, or elementary school, consisting of either grades K-5 or grades K-6;

(2) A middle-level school, or junior high school, consisting of either grade 6 or 7 to grade 8 or 9; or

(3) An upper-level school, or high school, consisting of either grades 9-12 or grades 10-12.

If a district has only 2 school configurations, the plan may contain any combination of grade levels. To the extent a district concludes that an alternative configuration would better accomplish the goals of this Act, the district may present an alternative neighborhood school plan in addition to the plan based on the above configurations.

(c) Each district shall hold at least 5 public hearings concerning their proposed plan prior to submission to the State Board of Education.

(d) The school board of each district shall submit its plan to the State Board of Education by November 15, 2001 for its review and approval. If approved, the State Board of Education shall notify the Budget Director and Controller General who shall, subject to an annual appropriation, release to the district a one-time payment of $1.25 million from the General Fund for transition costs incurred by the district in implementing the Plan. If the State Board of Education does not approve the plan, it shall notify the district in writing, identify the reasons why the plan was not approved and require the district to re-submit the plan within 60 days of the notice of denial. If the district fails to re-submit the plan in accordance with this Act within 60 days, the State Board of Education shall refer the matter to the Attorney General’s Office to bring an action in a court of competent jurisdiction to compel compliance with this subsection.

(e) A district that, as a result of its Plan, reduces its student transportation expenses from its student transportation expenses for FY 2001 shall receive payment for the difference between those expenses, as calculated each year, for 10 years. The district shall use the payments for general education expenses.

(f) Each district shall implement its Neighborhood School Plan within 18 months of receiving payment of one-time transition costs pursuant to subsection (c) of this section.

(g) A citizen with standing may bring a private cause of action in a court of competent jurisdiction to enforce the requirements of this section.

(h) Nothing in this section is intended to deny or interfere with a student attending a special education program, an alternative school or a charter school, or electing to attend a school through the enrollment choice program.”

Section 3. The Appoquinimink School Districts and existing non-vocational school districts in Kent and Sussex Counties may submit plans proposing alternative attendance feeder patterns and/or alternative grade configurations to the State Board of Education and if approved, pursuant to the process outlined in §224(d), shall receive payment of $350,000.00 for one-time transition costs to implement the plan.

Section 4. If any provision of this Act or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the Act which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to that end the provisions of this Act are declared to be severable.

Approved April 20, 2000