Wesley takes another step toward merger

DOVER — The boards of trustees for Wesley College and a potential partner approved a merger pending legal review and the signing of a final agreement about three weeks ago. Documents received from the Office of Management and Budget through a Freedom of Information Act request indicate a merger between Wesley and the unspecified institution is likely very close.

Delaware announced on Feb. 5 Wesley, which has been facing serious financial difficulties, would receive $3 million in state funding in return for some concessions, including providing regular updates to the state.

Most importantly, should the school fail to come to terms on a merger, it will have to surrender possession of the old Dover Public Library to the state. The college purchased the South State Street property from the city in 2016 for $1.

A few days after the announcement, Dover City Council unanimously agreed to waive a deed restriction that had previously given Dover the right of first refusal on buying the property.

Funding from the state will be provided monthly as needed to ensure Wesley can continue to make payroll and to leverage federal grants and similar resources, according to the letter approving the request.

On Feb. 14, Wesley issued its first weekly update to the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Committee. In it, the school wrote the exact language of an agreement is under review.

“Both Boards and respective institutional leadership teams recognize the significant potential for the two institutions coming together to become a stronger institution while maintaining the character and quality at Wesley, as well as enhancing those with the national capabilities and market reach of our potential partner,” the letter from President Robert Clark says.

More information, including the name of the other university, is redacted.

On Feb. 19, Wesley told the committee it needed $1.8 million by Feb. 17 for salaries, benefits costs and student refunds. It also said it expected to require the final portion by March 13 to cover payroll and benefits.

The Feb. 21 update indicates the two institutions were working to iron out any issues. That letter also contains a copy of the agreement between the schools, although it is redacted.

“We continue to move forward with our sustainability and growth plan, with positive results, which has been brief to various State officials over the past several months,” President Clark said in a statement Thursday. “Specifically, we have drastically increased our fiscal efficiency, capitalized on some non-traditional revenue sources, and signed an agreement that moves us closer to a long-term partnership that would provide financial and programmatic growth to the College.”

The school has declined to identify its partner because doing so could potentially jeopardize the agreement.

In November, Wesley submitted a request for $3.2 million to the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Committee. The group, which consists of the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the secretary of state, the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Improvement and the controller general, previously gave $2 million to the college in 2019.

Wesley also was given permission in the spring to move $1.375 million earmarked for it the prior year to renovate the former Dover library.

College officials were informed in the summer they would not receive any more funding without first submitting a long-term strategic plan to the state, which had not been done.

“The decision to approve these additional funds proved difficult for the committee,” the five-member committee said in a statement in November.

“However, the committee understands that should the college cease operations the economic impact to the state’s capital — the loss of over 200 jobs and vacancy of 19 buildings in downtown Dover — would be significant. In addition, hundreds of Delawareans would have their education disrupted without a clear path to continue their education.”

As of Feb. 21, the last update, the letter of agreement still had to be voted on by the boards of trustees of both universities.