Changes to Delaware Board of Education aim for more transparency

 

DOVER — After considering eliminating the state Board of Education entirely, lawmakers instead chose to order the board to clarify its duties and make several other changes with an eye toward greater transparency.

The Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee officially recommended the board’s duties be better defined and its monthly meetings be more accessible to the public.

The proposals will be introduced as legislation.

The board had been under the microscope with some alleging it too often operated behind closed doors and overstepped its boundaries.

Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, said he was unclear about what the organization does.

“I am extremely, extremely, extremely disappointed by the lack of transparency by the board when it comes to commenting on legislation or taking positions on legislation. I’m quite frankly rather frightened by that.”

The board, which is composed of seven members, is officially tasked with giving assistance to the secretary of education on policy and budgeting. It predates the Department of Education by more than 100 years but has come under fire in recent years, leading to review by the Sunset Committee.

“You were taking on responsibilities that weren’t actually written in the legislation,” Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, said.

Board vice president Nina Lou Bunting defended the group as “the citizens’ oversight for rules and regulations.” But Rep. Spiegelman called that misleading, noting members are chosen by the governor, not the public.

Public comments previously submitted to lawmakers mostly supported the board After discussion Tuesday, legislators tabled the recommendation to cut group.

“Throwing the baby out with the bathwater — I don’t think it’s what we should be doing,” Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said.

Lawmakers shot down a recommendation to increase the number of board members to 13 and have them vote for the president. Currently, the board’s president is selected by the governor, an arrangement defended by several of the board members present for the committee hearing.

The committee did vote to have the board change the job description of the executive director, making the officeholder’s duties more narrowly defined.

Other changes include bumping the start time for board of education meetings from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., allowing more chances for members of the public to provide input at the meetings and publicizing the board’s decisions more.

The Sunset panel will review the Board of Education again at a later date to determine if it has met the criteria set forth Tuesday.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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