Dover, Levy Court back resolutions for Wesley state funding

DOVER — Wesley College received support from Kent County Levy Court and Dover City Council this week in the form of resolutions asking the state to continue its financial support of the institution.

“With greater than 50 percent of our student body being Delawareans, over 80 percent of our graduates remaining in Delaware following graduation, over 300 employees and an economic impact of [about] $80 million a year to Kent County, we are very appreciative for the public recognition of Wesley’s worth by the mayor and Dover City Council, as well as the Kent County Levy Court, with their recent resolutions,” Wesley College President Bob Clark said in a written statement Wednesday.

Dover City Council passed the resolution 8-0, with no discussion. City Councilman Tim Slavin recused himself from the vote because of a perceived conflict of interest. His wife works for Wesley College.

Levy Court’s resolution passed, 6-1, with Commissioner Jeffrey Hall as the dissenting vote.

The resolutions, which emphasize the economic and academic importance of Wesley College in Kent County and Dover, request that the General Assembly continue to invest in and support Wesley College through the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Fund.
Bill Hare, Dover City Council president, said that the resolution was a “joint effort.”

Wesley College President Bob Clark

“All we were saying in the resolution is that Wesley is part of the community, like DelState, DelTech, Wilmington University,” he said. “Whatever they’re doing to better themselves, we support them. It’s a letter of support, that we appreciate them and what they’re doing and what they do.”

Mr. Hall said he voted against the Levy Court resolution Tuesday night because he thought a more informed vote could be made if the vote was delayed.

“I’m not against supporting Wesley College. My older children are graduates of it. I understand their economic impact to Dover and county,” he said. “It’s a worthy institution. I just wanted a better understanding of what we were voting for.”

President Clark and state Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, attended the Levy Court meeting Tuesday night to advocate for passing the resolution.

In his remarks to the commissioners, President Clark noted the strides that the college has made and a potential partnership that is forthcoming with another institution. He said the discussion is now “moving from a letter of intent to a definitive agreement.”

“Again, nothing is 100 percent, but I see a lot of positive in the future, just like I saw a lot of positive when I got here,” he continued.

President Clark said separately Wesley is moving forward with its “sustainability and growth plan with positive results.”

“Specifically, we have drastically increased our fiscal efficiency, capitalized on some non-traditional revenue sources and signed agreements that could potentially lead to long-term partnerships that would provide financial and programmatic growth to the college, that will ensure we can continue to help meet the critical educational and workforce needs of our state and region, especially in the areas of healthcare, education and STEM,” he said.

Kent County Commissioner Jody Sweeney said that Wesley did not approach Levy Court about a resolution.

“This is not an institution we want to see fold up because of the lack of a little bit of funding that will get it through a year until their plan takes effect,” Mr. Sweeney said, citing the college’s impact on employment and students in the state and county.

Mr. Sweeney said he has heard some of the plan the college is working on to address financial stability.

“When they tell me they have a plan, I trust them that they have a plan,” he said.

Rep. Lynn said Wednesday he is concerned about the college’s future. The school employs more than 300 people and contributes tens of millions in economic impact to the state, most of which goes to Kent County, he said.

“This is a wise use of taxpayer dollars because you get such a huge return on investment, not to mention that there’s 500 Delaware kids who go there,” he said.

A substantial portion of its population are minorities, he noted.

Wesley has received $2 million from the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Fund in the past six months. In a November application, President Clark asked for an additional $3.2 million. That request is still pending.

In March 2019, Wesley sought and was later given permission to use $1.375 million earmarked to renovate the former Dover Public Library for operational purposes. It must still use the same sum on the South State Street property, which it purchased from the city in 2016 for $1, at some point.