Delaware Governor brokers deal for Wilmington schools

    (AP photo/Morry Gash)

    (AP photo/Morry Gash)

    With fears of a stalemate rising, Delaware Governor Jack Markell has brokered a compromise intended to keep a Wilmington redistricting plan on track.

    The reworked proposal empowers the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) to halt any school redistricting plan if sufficient money isn’t provided. Previously the Delaware State Board of Education held that power, which had created conflict between WEIC and the state board.

    WEIC will convene an emergency meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 14 at Warner Elementary School in Wilmington to vote on the new proposal, according to a letter posted on WEIC’s website.

    If WEIC–a 23-member body of local education advocates–approves the plan it would head to the state board for approval. The state board next meets on Thursday, March 17.

    WEIC members met with state board president Terri Quinn Gray, Governor Markell, the governor’s chief of staff, Mike Barlow, and the governor’s education advisor, Meghan Wallace on Thursday, March 3 to hash out a deal. At issue was a clause in the WEIC’s redistricting proposal that said the state board “shall” halt the plan if requisite money wasn’t available at any point during the three-year transition process.

    The state board wanted “shall” changed to “may,” which would have given future boards discretion over whether to halt the plan. By a 4-3 vote, the state board approved the plan on the condition that WEIC change the word “shall” to the word “may.”

    WEIC refused to alter the language, arguing that such a move would leave districts vulnerable to what many commissioners called “an unfunded mandate.” In essence, WEIC worried a future state board could push the redistricting proposal forward even if it threatened the fiscal well-being of the districts involved.

    Into the fray stepped Governor Markell.

    “The Governor led the consideration of alternative language for the Redistricting Resolution that might be satisfactory to all parties,” wrote WEIC chairman Tony Allen in a letter to the other members of his committee.

    Markell proposed removing the state board from the decision-making process if indeed the money falls through.

    The new clause reads:

    “If the necessary and sufficient funding and transition supports, as laid out in the compendium dated February 11, 2016, are not provided by the conclusion of each stage and in the manner proposed, the Commission after consulting with the affected districts, shall suspend the timetable for implementation until the resources and supports are provided.”

    Markell also proposed that WEIC “meet semi-annually” with the state board to discuss the commission’s work. Those discussions would focus on “educational improvement and resources,” according to a letter penned by the Governor, and would give the state board an advisory role as the proposal is implemented.

    WEIC’s redistricting plans would remove the Christina School District from Wilmington and give its share of city students to the neighboring Red Clay School District. With that move, just over half of Wilmington students would live in the Red Clay District.

    Wilmington has been split between four traditional school districts ever since a 1981 desegregation plan.

    The new redistricting plan must be approved by WEIC on Monday and the state board on Thursday in order to move forward. The state board’s authority to redraw district lines in the city expires at the end of the month.

    If WEIC and the state board both give the OK, the proposal would then head to the general assembly. The general assembly and governor must approve the plan before it can be enacted.

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