There was some very interesting legislation introduced last week in the Delaware General Assembly concerning Sussex Tech. As usual, the words “shall” and “may” can totally change a bill. The bill is mainly about taxation and enrollment but it seems to be a Christmas bonanza for the school.
It appears, on the surface, the taxes will be lowered for the next several years but that sneaky word “may” rears its ugly head which gives the school carte blanche to do what they want with those taxes. And by the time the three years are up the taxes will be higher than they are now, which are 29 cents on each $100 of real property value in Sussex County.
The amount to be raised by taxation may not exceed 26.50 on each $100 value of real property in Sussex County for the tax year year 2022, 28.50 cents for tax year 2023, 29.50 cents for tax year 2024 and all years thereafter.
Who wrote this legislation? Haven’t we learned by now that using the word “may” gives something the ability to change into something else that eliminates the intent of the bill itself? The sponsorship on the bill is mostly Republican with State Senators Hocker and Pettyjohn accompanied by State Reps. Dukes and Short. The sole Democrat on the bill is good old Speaker of the House, Pete Schwartzkopf. All of them are legislators in Sussex County.
Even more striking in the bill is the enrollment increases. The General Assembly capped Sussex Tech’s enrollment five years ago but this bill gives them the ability to increase it gradually over the next four school years, from 1,300 students to 1,450 students by 2024. And as usual, there is that sneaky word “may” adding more legal ambiguity to the bill.
Enrollment for the Sussex County Vocational-Technical High School District may not exceed 1,300 in grades 9-12 for school year 2021-2022, 1350 students for school year 2022-2023, 400 students for school year 2023-2024 and 1450 students for school year 2024-2025 and all years thereafter.
Which means, since they “may” not like those numbers they can increase them anytime they like. Not that long ago Sussex Tech had some major financial issues, as reported by The News Journal: Auditor finds financial mismanagement at Sussex Technical School District (delawareonline.com)
This is ripe for potential abuse. So what is at the heart of all this? Making a new Sussex Tech building. A couple years ago the state denied their request for a new building, as reported by The Cape Gazette: State denies funding for new Sussex Tech | Cape Gazette
They got denied because the new building would have been meant for 1,600 students. Which at the time they could only have 1,250. This new legislation would allow them to reach that designated capacity so they can make a new building. But that sneaky word “may” gives that tiny loophole so boom, next year there could be 1,600 students if they so wanted. I wonder what construction company is pushing this bill?
And because the school was under-enrolling struggling students they had to accept students who had grades below 70 from their prior school or failed a class in 8th grade. This gave more students a shot at Sussex Tech. The new bill eliminates that language and changes it to standards set for the Delaware Department of Education.
The problem with this is that on Sussex Tech’s choice application they seem to be going by 7th grade and not 8th grade. It appears they are already circumventing the law that is already in place! And they are adding in the day program for eligibility. Guess they only want the really smart kids which makes them no better than some charter schools in this state.
There is also a nice little addition concerning board members kids getting in. For those who may not be aware, the Delaware Governor appoints board members to our technical school districts. Hmmm….
This seems like a beg and plead bill given to legislators in the area of Sussex Tech to do the school’s bidding. Have they earned the good will to request all this after their gigantic financial mistakes just four years ago? Time will tell. I expect this bill will pass but someone needs to change the wording in this from “may” to “shall” otherwise we can expect some funky stop going on with Sussex Tech for the next few years!
The bill can be found here: Legislation Document (delaware.gov) It is under consideration in the Senate Executive Committee after it was introduced on 1/22/2021.