Legislation seeks public vote to select Sussex Tech board members

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Legislation filed Tuesday seeks to change the selection of Sussex Technical School District’s school board, from gubernatorial appointment to public vote.

DOVER – The seven members of the Sussex Technical School District are all appointed by the governor.

Legislation filed Tuesday in the State House of Representatives seeks to change that protocol with a more democratic process.

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State Rep. Tim Dukes

“It’s appropriate that Sussex County voters went to the polls today to select school board members,” said State Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, one of the bill’s five prime sponsors.  “Under this measure, all seven of the current appointed school board members – each serving a seven-year term – would be replaced with seven elected officials in 2016.”

Unlike the state’s other public school districts, vocational districts can impose tax hikes without needing to submit the request to a referendum.

However, the vo-techs have a statutory limit on their levying authority – a ceiling Sussex Tech officials reached in 2009 when they last hiked property taxes.

For about the last 18 months, Sussex Tech officials had been pressing the General Assembly to ratchet-up its tax ceiling by more than 114-percent over six years.  Lawmakers responded by taking steps to align the school’s obligations with its revenue.   Enrollment will be reduced by 295 students over the next three years and the school was granted modest authority to temporarily raise its tax ceiling to give it time to restructure its finances.

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State Rep. Ron Gray

“Sussex Tech’s financial issues, and our work towards finding an acceptable solution, illustrated the need for accountability,” said State Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, another of the measure’s prime sponsors.  “Throughout this process, my constituents constantly asked me why they had no voice in the administration of Sussex Tech.  This bill would give them that voice.”

State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Lewes-Milton, said the current situation amounts to taxation without representation.  “County residents are being taxed to support an institution which has no direct accountability to them,” he said.  “That needs to change and there is no reason it should not.”

Under the bill, each of the elected board members would serve four-year terms.  However, three of the board members would initially serve only a two-year term, staggering term expirations so about half the board will face re-election each cycle.

One board member would be selected from each of Sussex County’s seven public school districts.

The bill would not impact either of the state’s other two vocational districts: POLYTECH or New Castle County.

“I will leave the consideration of the other vo-techs to other legislators and separate bills,” Rep. Dukes said.   “Sussex Tech has been uniquely controversial in it actions and the challenges they created.  They are the sole focus of this legislation.”

The Sussex County Post delivers news from Georgetown and southern Delaware. Follow @SussexPost on Twitter.

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