Commentary: Delaware Tech problem is mathematics, not mismanagement

Naive. Uninformed. Irresponsible. Ridiculous. Those are just a few of the words that came to mind when I read a recent commentary that blamed Delaware Tech’s $100 million dollar deferred maintenance crisis on mismanagement by our board of trustees and administration. (“SB 50 is an ‘unprincipled slippery slope’”)

Please don’t misunderstand me. I fully support everyone’s right to express their opinion. But people who seek the public stage should do their homework before they make such reckless and inflammatory accusations. If they did, they would recognize that the problem is mathematics, not mismanagement.

Delaware Tech is a true state agency, unlike our other two public institutions of higher education in Delaware. Our entire capital appropriation comes from the bond bill, and while we’d welcome a system where funding is allocated based on the merits of our need, we receive the exact same amount as the other two institutions even though we have four times the number of campuses as one, and lack access to a $2 billion endowment like the other.

Brian Shirey, Esq.

We also lack access to revenue streams needed to pay the debt on any bonds issued, thereby resulting in our inability to develop capital plans beyond one year. It’s only through the innovation, resourcefulness and sound management of our board and administration – and our campus facilities management staffs in particular – that Delaware Tech has been able to continue providing critical workforce training to Delawareans despite the obstacles we face.

Delaware Tech recently celebrated our 50th anniversary of making a difference in the lives of Delawareans. Many of our facilities were renovated or constructed in the late 60s through the early 90s and are now between 30 to 50 years old. It should surprise no one that the older a building gets, the more maintenance is required.

According to industry standards, we should be investing $12 million per year in maintenance alone, but have only been receiving an average of $4.9 million for deferred maintenance over the last 14 years. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how quickly that type of deficit can accumulate into a $100 million crisis.

The assertion that Delaware Tech has received over a billion dollars from the state budget over the last 13 years is misleading at best and dishonest at worst.

Although we received approximately $81 million in last year’s operating budget, only $10 million was appropriated from the bond bill for our capital needs. The funds appropriated in the budget bill for operations cannot be used for any other purpose.

It’s also worth noting that operating funds we receive from the state cover less than 42 percent of our costs, with the balance funded by tuition, fees and federal grants.

Raising tuition is not the answer. There is a misperception among some that everyone at Delaware Tech is receiving a free education. Nothing could be further from the truth. Less than 10 percent of our students are attending on a SEED scholarship, and even those students pay for fees and books. A recent survey revealed that over 40 percent of our students experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days, and 13 percent had experienced homelessness.

For those of you keeping score, that means we serve more homeless students than SEED scholars. And although many of our students face challenges that would overwhelm most people, they sacrifice, persevere and persist! That’s one reason why they become valuable employees in Delaware’s workforce.

Raising tuition would condemn those students — and thousands of Delawareans like them who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. In short, those who can least afford this burden would be forced to carry it.

Instead, Delaware Tech is putting Delawareans to work in jobs that make a true difference to the people of our state. Whether in health care, law enforcement, IT, energy, manufacturing or many other fields, our graduates are helping state residents in many ways every day. That’s why we are committed to continuing to work with our partners to come up with a new solution to solve Delaware Tech’s looming deferred maintenance crisis. Our students deserve it, and so do the people of Delaware.

Brian D. Shirey, Esq. is general counsel for Delaware Technical Community College.

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