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House committee pushes pause on Wilmington redistricting

Delaware Public Media

The push to redistrict Wilmington schools is off to a bumpy start in the General Assembly after lawmakers voted to table it in a House committee Wednesday.

Rep. Charles Potter Jr. (D-Wilmington North) said from the outset that a compromise needs to be struck with the GOP and even some members of his own caucus before it moves forward.

Potter divulged the tactic at the beginning of the hearing, calling it a “critical issue that we must get right the first time for our children.”


“Over 40 years of desegregation has devastated the city of Wilmington and our children. It has cut into our community, it has divided our city up into four different school districts,” he said.


No member of the committee made any comments about the bill, immediately opening the floor for public testimony


About 15 people spoke, each of them praising the overhaul.

"The General Assembly has never done anything progressive on behalf of children of color in the City of Wilmington unless compelled by a judge or judges," said New Castle County Councilman Jea Street, support the resolution. "There's an opportunity now to either continue that history or make some progress."

Downstate legislators have railed against the plan in the past, which could sidetrack it, saying it unevenly focuses on northern New Castle County school districts.

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission [WEIC] backers counter that extra funding for English language learners and schools with large concentrations of high-poverty students will eventually trickle into Kent and Sussex Counties, though there's no mandate to do so.

Other Democrats also have concerns that the resolution will bind their names to supporting the entire WEIC plan, which calls for reassessing property values in each county to drum up more cash for local districts – something that's been a third-rail issue for lawmakers.

The resolution is solely an endorsement by the General Assembly to move control of Wilmington school kids from Christina to the Red Clay School District.

Gov. Jack Markell (D) set aside $6 million in his proposed budget to pay for the first year of the plan's implementation, though Rep. Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow) expects the price tag to at least double in order to cinch up enough votes.

“I think if there was a real drive to make sure that it got passed, I think the funding would’ve been appropriated appropriately," said Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek Valley), noting he can't support the proposal as it stands.

"The fact that it isn’t gives a lot of people who would be affected angst of where that money’s coming from,” Ramone said.

Rep. Helene Keeley, a southern Wilmington Democrat, cited an expensive package of tax cuts and credits the General Assembly passed earlier this year to lure potential DuPont company spin offs to headquarter in Delaware, saying a similar investment must be made for the state's children.

“We need to make sure it is there. We just gave $50 million away to corporations so they could stay here. We need to dig in and dig up and find the damn money to make this right.”

Potter says he will hash out an amendment to the resolution by the end of this week and will revive the issue in committee next Wednesday.

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