New Castle County teachers, parents and residents voiced their concerns about school redistricting during the first public meeting held by the newly formed Wilmington Education Improvement Commission on Monday.
The commission was formed after legislation passed allowing Delaware’s Department of Education to redistrict Christina School District’s low-performing Wilmington schools into Red Clay Consolidated School District.
Now the commission is listening to the community’s concerns about redistricting, such as how to fund such a large undertaking, so it can create a plan of action.
“We are being as proactive as we can and that’s all we can do at this point,” said Kenneth Rivera, vice chairperson on the commission and president of the Red Clay School Board.
“I think there’s a lot of conversation, but what we need to do is get people’s input into some sort of formal channel so we know what the community thinks and drive decisions from there.”
The redistricting plan was adopted as a way to transform low-performing Christina schools in Wilmington, and improve the education of students throughout the city. It also attempts to prevent busing students from their homes, which made it difficult for families and the community to engage in its schools.
Legislation also created the commission to address the needs of schools with high concentrations of children living in poverty and English language learners, and recommend policies and actions to promote the improvement of public education.
Now the commission must create a comprehensive plan for redistricting that will guarantee minimal disruption to students, teachers and administrators, and include funding resources to support the transition of redistricting.
The plan must be completed by Dec. 31st, and the Board of Education must make a decision on the plan by March 31st. After redistricting is approved, the General Assembly must pass, and the Governor must sign, a joint resolution supporting the changes. The plan will also be available for public review.
The commission says there will be a few years of transition before redistricting is completed.
In a well-attended auditorium at McKean High School in Wilmington, concerns of how to fund redistricting, and the worry of raised taxes, was repeated throughout the evening.
Attendants also wanted to know if Red Clay is capable of taking on as many as 1,500 new students, while others worried there isn’t enough time to implement such a large plan.
Some say they are still unsure how redistricting will help schools at all.
“I just want to make sure we do what is right for the children, that we put the funding what it is, and put in the programs we need for the children to move ahead,” said Ariadna Castaneda, who works for Red Clay.
“If the plan is implemented correctly it will be done.”
Melissa Costantino, a Wilmington resident, said she attending the meeting because she wanted to learn more about the funding for redistricting.
She said she voted favorably for the Red Clay referendum, and wanted to know where funding will come from and how it will be allocated.
“I’m more worried about approving the taxes and then that money not being used for what we thought it was being used for,” Costantino said.
Dan Rich, a policy director for the commission, said the current funding system for Delaware public schools is antiquated and very uncertain. He said it’s difficult for schools to get increases, and for referendums to pass.
Rich said part of the commission’s job will be to strengthen the revenue structure, and find ways to more effectively allocate funds to ensure it has the most beneficial impact on students.
“We’ve got an allocation system that is 70 plus years old. It was developed for a time with very few changes and not as much diversity and differential needs. Now we need a much more adaptive, flexible system, one we call for weighted student funding,” he said.
“So we identify resources, identify what each student needs to be successful, we have to change the existing system to deal with increasing demands for schools with high concentrations of low income and English language learning students, and right now our system is blind to those needs.”
Then the commission needs to ensure the school system can cover all the transition costs of redistricting, Rich said.
Some attendants of the meeting, like teacher Catherine Dennison, said they’re concerned that the December 31st deadline doesn’t give the commission long enough to create a plan that won’t put a burden on students and teachers.
“The time consumption of it, and all the logistics are going to be a problem,” Dennison said. “Everyone was saying it’s going to take longer than four months to put it together the right way, and that concerns me.”
The commission says Monday’s meeting is one of several meetings it will hold with the public to keep communication open, take suggestions and answer any questions. The next meeting will be held Sept. 1st at Cab Calloway in Wilmington at 6:30 p.m.
Rivera said he’s positive the commission can make some effective changes to improve Wilmington schools.
“I am very optimistic this commission presents itself an opportunity for us to radically change education for the better, and I hope we continue to stay in front of this process so we do the best we can,” he said.