Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines. After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District. But something went awry.
I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle. I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day. Two problems arose during their caucus. One was the issue with Brandywine. Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose. Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district. The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said. I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.
A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits. When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building. This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools. There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.
When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth. Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true. This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware. Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative. Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent. The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.
Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC. The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding. I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools. The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen. If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state. The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools. Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay. Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.
So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from? It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this. It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.
None of this exists in Senate Bill 122. To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this. The trick will be in the timing. Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay. The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written. This is the crucial moment: funding. WEIC is required to determine this in their report. The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away. Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget. If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that. Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.
Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing? I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.
We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools. We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative. You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.
If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.