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                     THE VO-TECH SCHOOL DISTRICTS

                                               May 2011

Dear Editor,

        When I originally signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation requiring the consolidation of the three
vocational-technical school districts in the state, one of my main goals was to initiate an open and honest
dialogue on the topic. I am pleased that, as a result of my initial decision to co-sponsor Senate Bill 5, I
have received a significant amount of feedback on the issue from both parents and vo-tech school

       The legislation would take effect in the 2012-2013 school year and, according to the bill’s
synopsis, it is intended to “save considerable public funds and increase efficiency of this system” by
consolidating the three districts into one vo-tech district.

         However, the potential costs savings from the proposed consolidation remain in question. In
fact, the three vo-tech districts claim the costs to consolidate into one district far outweigh any projected
savings. A position paper submitted by the districts states that the “cost to level up” and make
comparable the salaries and benefits of employees performing the same functions would be nearly $3.2
million. In fact, there is legal precedence for an anticipated ‘leveling up’ of salaries. A state report
issued in 2002 cites a consolidation effort in New Castle County resulting from the federal school
desegregation court order in 1978 “led to a county-wide teacher strike in which one of the primary
causes was the issue of leveling-up teacher salaries to that of the highest paying district prior to county
consolidation.” The vo-tech districts also cite a Department of Education funding analysis showing a
net savings of only about $65,000 annually. Clearly, based on this analysis, any savings from
consolidating the vo-techs would pale in comparison once the increased costs from leveling salaries are

        Additionally, Senate Bill 5 requires what is termed as “equitable and uniform taxation to fund”
the new district. However, the varying property tax rates between each of the three counties will likely
make it necessary for a complete statewide re-assessment of the tax rate. The last time Sussex County
property owners’ had their tax rate reassessed was in 1974. Given the enormity of the projected costs
and overall effort of reassessing property tax rates in Delaware, there has traditionally been very little
public support for such a proposal.

       Anecdotally, in addition to the debate over costs savings and uniform taxation, combining the
vo-tech districts in Sussex and Kent Counties with the New Castle County Vo-Tech District raises
concerns about whether the students and their specific needs will be accommodated with one district.
Local control becomes jeopardized and concerns over whether the more rural needs of students in Kent
and Sussex would be under-served if consolidation were to actually happen.
        After careful consideration – due to the reasons mentioned in this article – I have decided to
withdraw my sponsorship of Senate Bill 5. The feedback was exactly what I had been hoping to receive
and I appreciate those who took the time to contact me with their questions and concerns.

       It’s important to point out that various proposals for some form of school consolidation have
been offered in the Legislature over the years. One particular proposal that I do support is the
recommendation to improve efficiency and maximize the use of our education dollars by consolidating
the purchasing and other procurement functions of all public school districts in Delaware. In fact, the
vo-tech districts – in their position paper on Senate Bill 5 – state that consolidating the districts’
purchasing functions would produce “the only opportunity for progress.” While it may not be the only
opportunity, it surely is worth pursuing and one I will continue to push for as long as I am in the General

         As a final note – on a separate, but somewhat related topic – it is my hope that Sussex Technical
School District and the public school districts throughout the county are able to continue their dialogue
as it relates to establishing the best recruitment and admissions practices for students interested in
pursuing a vo-tech curriculum. I support Sussex Tech and the public districts working together to derive
a plan on how best to identify those students who would most benefit from the vocational programming
offered by the vo-tech district.


                                              Daniel B. Short
                                              State Representative
                                              39th District

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