Sussex legislators want elected vo-tech boards

Pettyjohn: Accountability sought
Sussex County legislators have proposed a bill that would require elections for vo-tech school boards. Boards are currently appointed by the governor. SOURCE SUSSEX TECH HIGH SCHOOL
March 28, 2014

A bill that would require elections for Delaware's three vo-tech school boards has been proposed by two Sussex County legislators.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, are sponsoring legislation that would replace governor-appointed school boards for vo-tech school in all three counties with boards that are elected by county voters. Along with Pettyjohn on the Senate side, Sen. Brian Townsend, D-Newark, is co-sponsoring the bill.

Pettyjohn said the timing is right with the recent controversy over Sussex Tech's proposal for a property tax increase to cover nearly $4 million in operating costs at the high school and district office.

“We've been hearing from a lot of people that they would like a referendum,  and they would like the school board that's proposing it to be held accountable,” Pettyjohn said.

The governor appoints a seven-member board that makes decisions for each of the countywide vo-tech systems. Each member serves seven years.

Sussex Tech and Polytech each operate a single high school in Sussex and Kent counties, respectively. New Castle County Vo-tech district operates the Delaware Skills Center, Delcastle Technical High School, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School, Howard High School of Technology and St. Georges Technical High School.

“This is overdue,” said Briggs King. “The school boards of our other 16 public school districts are elected by the citizens they serve. I do not see any reason why the technical districts should be different.”

Under the bill, the school boards would have the same number of members as the county governments in which they are located. If approved, the New Castle County Votech board would have 13 members; Polytech and Sussex Tech each would have seven. The boards would be selected in nonpartisan races during the general election every two years, the bill proposes.

If approved before the end of the current legislative session on June 30, the first elections would take place in November.

The bill is working its way through both houses for sponsorship; Briggs King said there has been early support for the measure; so far 14 legislators have signed the bill. All of Sussex County's Senate delegation are supporting the bill, Pettyjohn said. Sussex County support is similar on the House side with the exception of Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, Briggs King said.

“It has backers in both chambers of the General Assembly, from both parties, and from officials in all three counties,” she said.

Schwartzkopf could not be reached for comment.

Once the bill is filed, Pettyjohn said it most likely will be assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

Gov. Jack Markell is interested in learning more about the bill, but has not taken a position on the issue, said Jonathan Dworkin, communications advisor for the governor.

This article contains updated information on Gov. Markell's stance regarding the bill.