Series of Posts: How the State Bailed Out Sussex Tech High School – Part 1

Rumors were flying around Legislative Hall this January about Sussex Tech, they were supposedly strapped for cash. In April, House Bill 100 was filed, giving Sussex Tech High School a new tax rate ceiling for the next two years and then the tax rate is suppose to sunset to its original level in three years. House Bill 100 was amended, to view the bill click here. Here is the amendment that was added. I voted “NO” on this bill.

  • 23.50 original tax rate
  • 29.00 tax rate for 2016
  • 30.00 tax rate for 2017

School districts have to go to referendum in order to get approval for additional funding. School districts have to work for months to educate and convince their residents why the districts need a tax increase. The taxpayers then decide whether or not to support the tax increase, Votechs do not. Votechs, they just come to the General Assembly and ask for their increases.  They lobby the General Assembly members to get their increases. This bill was filed in April and was signed by the Governor on May 28, 2015, it was fast-tracked.

It is so interesting how we allow certain public schools to have selective admissions and allow schools to send students back (don’t necessarily fit-in as one Delaware Met charter board member stated recently) to their feeder schools. We fund all our schools in different ways. Yet, traditional public schools are always criticized for their state assessments and how they are failing our kids. You can’t compare a school that accepts a student based on grades or test schools to a school who accepts everyone, it is just not right!

It is interesting, when this bill came before the House Education Committee, I asked the bill sponsors, Rep. Schwartzkopf and D. Short, if Sussex Tech’s superintendent had a change in heart about Sussex Tech using grades as part of their admission process. In the bill it states that they can no longer use grades as part of denying a student entrance into Sussex Tech.  Dr. A.J. Lathbury was a member of the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which I co-chaired. (We are currently working on the draft report.)  Lathbury voted “YES” during the task force meeting to keep grades as part of the admission process for votechs, magnets and charters. I asked Rep. Schwartzkopf and D. Short if they would support this as well for New Castle County Votech and PolyTech.  Below are their responses from the House Education Committee meeting on April 22, 2015.

Rep. D. Short said that this bill addresses the tax rate ceiling for Sussex Vocational-Technical School District (SVTSD) in Sussex County by increasing the ceiling for two years and then sun-setting the ceiling to its original level. He said that this bill also helps to address the enrollment increases in SVTSD by creating an enrollment cap, lowering the enrollment over a period of time. He said the funding dilemma in SVTSD was caused partly by the tax ceiling issue, but also due to the lull in the economy. He said the bill also addresses some admission restrictions, including sibling applicants and those with a GPA below the seventieth percentile to be eligible for the lottery.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said that all Sussex County legislators have worked on this bill and they are unified, mostly. He said that this bill is not a panacea, but it is a reasonable path forward and gives the superintendent and board of education time to bring expenses in line with revenues. He said there will be a forthcoming amendment to this bill to deal with expulsion policies and said the bill will not run without the amendment.

Rep. Williams asked if the sponsors of the bill supported the provision for GPAs below the seventieth percentile policy to be applicable to all vocational-technical schools in Delaware.

Rep. D. Short said he would defer to the representatives of those counties, but it is something to be considered. He said that consistency is a good thing, in his personal opinion. He also said that it is not an issue for this bill and the bill should remain as is for passage.

Rep. Williams questioned why Superintendent Lathbury voted against that provision previously in a task force meeting, but now supports the policy in HB 100.

Rep. D. Short said that Superintendent Lathbury is in full support of HB 100; the superintendent was present, but did not testify on behalf of the bill. Reps. D. Short and Schwartzkopf requested that the issue be debated on another day and requested that an amendment addressing that issue not be added to HB 100.

Rep. Kowalko echoed the concern of Rep. Williams and said the bill should be amended to include New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.

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