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Sussex Tech clearly needs change

July 20, 2018

Discontent simmering for several years at Sussex Technical High School boiled over recently.

In June, more than a dozen teachers, citing administrative corruption, board carelessness, absenteeism and lack of oversight, a damning auditor's report, and a culture of mistrust, demanded that several of the appointed board members resign.

Board President Pat Cooper acceded to their wishes, without comment, prior to the last board meeting. Other members subsequently met with teachers to hear grievances. To date, there have been no further resignations.

Sussex Tech has been a comprehensive high school since 1991. For 30 years prior, it was a part-time technical and vocational school where students learned trades to prepare for the workforce.

The school added an aggressive academic component when it went full time, and earned recognition for student achievement. As an independent high school under the state department of education, Sussex Tech receives funding from Delaware's General Assembly and taxes on Sussex County properties. Unlike other school districts in the county, Sussex Tech's board is appointed by the governor, not elected by citizens. Its seven members serve seven-year terms.

There have been rumblings since 1991 that Sussex Tech swung too hard toward an academic curriculum. But the school's most serious problems came in the past eight years. Financial misdealings suggested a loose administrative culture when it came to use of taxpayers' money, and little board oversight.

The Attorney General's Office reviewed a recent auditor's report detailing questionable allocation of millions of state dollars to a single Sussex contractor without competitive bidding.

It concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

All of this raises questions about seven-year school board terms, appointed vs. elected board members, and oversight by the state Department of Education. The governor should appoint a panel of independent education professionals to review Sussex Tech's mission and governance. The panel should recommend changes that will remove the clouds hanging over what should be an important and respected component of Sussex County's educational options.

 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher emeritus, and Laura Ritter, news editor, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.