Future remains uncertain for Delaware Board of Education

DOVER — In May the Joint Finance Committee voted to defund the Delaware Board of Education, placing the body’s future in doubt.

Committee members later walked back that action slightly by allowing the Office of Management and Budget to use funds to keep the board running.

The board is set to meet today for the first time since the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

But, with it being funded through a combination of leftover money from last year, OMB contingency funds and Department of Education dollars, its long-term prospects remain uncertain.

“It might be something that we can cobble together this year,” Executive Director Donna Johnson said. “Next year would be a completely different story.”

According to Ms. Johnson the group approves key requirements such as graduation standards. It is also responsible for granting final approval for charters in every district except Red Clay Consolidated School District, which has opted to handle authorization itself, and it also is the designated receiving agency for multi-million-dollar federal Perkins Grants.

As the board’s only full-time employee Ms. Johnson was caught off-guard by JFC’s initial vote and said she was unsure if lawmakers would end up finding funding for the group.

“I think that was really up to the last minute in terms of what compromises the budget ended up with,” she said.

She was referencing the deal crafted by Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly to balance the budget after legislators failed to reach an agreement before the end of the fiscal year.

The board was allocated $223,000 in the previous fiscal year, with about $91,000 of that funding going to pay Ms. Johnson’s salary.

Some of the other funding went to a part-time assistant, as well as stipends for board members.

JFC mentioned the possibility of eliminating the board and transferring its duties with epilogue language in the budget bill, but the board has a range of mandated responsibilities Ms. Johnson believes cannot be easily shifted to another state entity.

The board was reviewed by the Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee earlier this year, and while the committee considered axing it entirely, members ultimately went in a different direction, recommending making the board’s duties better defined and its meetings more accessible to the public.

Today’s meeting will be the first with some of the changes implemented as a result of the Sunset Committee hearing.

The gathering has been pushed back several hours to 5 p.m. to allow more people to attend, and it will feature an opportunity for members of the public to comment on every agenda item.

Moving the meeting, which is always held in Dover, to different cities in an effort to bring in people who normally might not come was discussed by the Sunset Committee but not implemented. Such a change would have to be done through legislation.

The board has two new members, with former New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District Superintendent Dennis Loftus replacing Teri Quinn Gray as president. Former state Sen. Liane Sorenson is also new on the board, taking the place of a member who moved out of state.

Gov. Carney had made a number of appointments since taking office in January, selecting new individuals to serve on boards and commissions. Dr. Gray was nominated by then Gov. Jack Markell around the start of his term eight years ago.

A request for comment from Gov. Carney’s office as to the governor’s thoughts on the long-term necessity of the board was not returned.

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