Tony Allen wears a lot of hats these days. First and foremost, he leads the Corporate Communications for Bank of America’s Consumer Banking. He sits on the Board of Directors at the Rodel Foundation. But his biggest role in 2015 was the Chairman of both the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the Wilmington Education Commission (WEIC).
Unless you’ve been living in a hole, the WEIC’s job is to formulate a redistricting plan to get the Wilmington schools in the Christina School District shifted to Red Clay Consolidated School District. Originally, the Wilmington schools in the Colonial School District were to be a part of this initiative, but their board said no. They are still a part of the commission, but the most recent draft isn’t calling for their less than 300 students to move over.
WEIC has been controversial since day one. Their biggest hurdle will be how to fund this long-term plan. Ideas have surfaced over the past few months regarding raising property assessments to current day levels over time. Many in Delaware oppose this, especially those in Sussex County around the beach towns. Property values have increased dramatically in this area, and any change in property assessments will hit those homeowners very hard. Recently, WEIC called for $6 million from Delaware’s General Fund in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017. Delaware Governor Jack Markell promised members of WEIC at their most recent full commission meeting that Red Clay citizens will not have to pay for this. So who will? This is the question on everybody’s mind.
WEIC will present their draft to the Delaware State Board of Education on 12/17, next Thursday. At that point, it is expected the State Board will vote yes on it in January and it will go the Delaware General Assembly for a vote. This is where WEIC will face its greatest challenge. With Delaware projected to have anywhere from a $150-$200 million dollar deficit for FY2017, many are guessing WEIC and the redistricting will be dead in the water once it hits the House and Senate floors.
For Tony Allen, he sees this as a “once in a generation” action. Others feel this is being rushed through for various reasons. I have always been suspicious of the overall motivations of the redistricting. Kilroy’s Delaware thinks it is revenge against the Christina School District. But there is one thing Red Clay has which none of the other districts do: they are a charter school authorizer, the only one of its kind in the state aside from the Delaware Department of Education.
As recently as last summer, Governor Markell was overheard, when asked about where the Wilmington students would go to high school, as saying “The Community Education Building”. If WEIC is not all it claims to be from its leaders, expect a lot of heat put on Tony Allen and Dan Rich. There are many who would benefit from Wilmington eventually becoming an all-charter district. I pray this isn’t the end result. I sincerely hope this is not the intentions of Tony Allen. But I often ask if he has been used in this initiative, if he is one of the chief architects, or if the fears of many are just that.
At the end of the day, it should always be about the students. Will the students of Wilmington truly be better off under one banner so to speak? This is the question that all decision-makers will face in the coming months. These children are the most vulnerable of all Delaware’s children. The bulk of them come from poverty and low-income, are minorities, and many students with disabilities. They are the ones that matter. They are trusting the adults are doing the right thing. If that trust is broken, how many generations will it take for that trust to be restored?