Should Delaware Consolidate Its School Districts

Filed in Delaware, Education by on February 3, 2017

The Joint Finance Committee met the other day to discuss Delaware’s Department of Education budget, the Delaware State News reported. Sadly, even though Delaware spends over $1 billion dollars on education, it doesn’t seem like much happened. They did talk about raising starting teacher salaries, but kind of nixed the idea on consolidating Delaware’s school districts.

Budget-writing lawmakers broached the possibility of consolidating some of the state’s 19 school districts Wednesday, but top education officials said it wouldn’t save much money.


Several lawmakers questioned the notion that fewer school districts would largely result in the same expenses, a conclusion reached in a past study.

The internet is full of studies about consolidating school districts in Delaware:

  • 2009 article: State auditor recommends consolidating state’s school districts (link)
  • 2004 study: Delaware School District Organization & Boundaries: Closing the Gap (link)
  • 2002 study: Feasibility Study for County Wide School Districts In
    Kent and Sussex Counties (link)
  • 2016 Article: Officials to eye merging state’s school districts (link)

Obviously, my google skills are deteriorating, so if anyone else can find recent studies that would be helpful. That all said, a consolidation of Delaware school districts would immediately save on superintendent salaries. We would also probably have to keep some of the assistant superintendents, but other staff cuts could probably be made in central offices. Firing people is a big deal, I get that, but it might be time to take advantage of Delaware’s size and have only three school districts.

Other unknown benefits could include getting rid of Delaware’s inane education referendums as part of a consolidation.

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Comments (14)

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  1. mediawatch says:

    Having followed Delaware public education quite closely for more than 40 years, I see the logic behind suggestions for countywide districts, but I doubt most of the populace would go for it.
    Here’s a more modest suggestion: 7 districts, as follows:
    Northern New Castle: Brandywine and Red Clay (including all of Wilmington)
    Central New Castle: Colonial and Christina (with this district grabbing the small portion of Appoqunimink that’s above the C&D Canal)
    Southern New Castle: Appo and Smyrna
    Northern Kent: Capital and Caesar Rodney
    Southern Kent: Lake Forest, Woodbridge and Milford
    Eastern Sussex: Cape Henlopen and Indian River
    Western Sussex: Seaford, Laurel and Delmar
    Eliminate vo-tech districts and put the schools in the new districts where they’re physically located.
    Give all responsibility for charter schools to the districts in which the charters are located. Putting charters under control of larger local districts should improve oversight and, if the charters really have innovative programs worth incorporating into traditional schools, it would be easier to recognize and replicate these programs at the local level, where school boards would have an incentive to make such changes that does not exist at the State Board of Education/Department of Education level.
    However, it’s going to take more than just redrawing lines to improve the trajectory of public education in the state.
    More thoughts later … got some real work to do now.

  2. pandora says:

    Those districts look good, mediawatch. Charters should be part of the districts they reside in. Right now, charters are their own district – so we have more than 19 school districts and superintendents. We have approx. 44.

  3. puck says:

    Brandywine would secede before they consolidate with anybody.

  4. mediawatch says:

    As a Brandywine resident, I’m happy that the district has gotten it right more often than the others, most notably when it succeeded in claiming special circumstances to escape from the resegregation mandated by the notorious Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000.
    I can understand how the district might not want to be associated with Red Clay, whose board in that era rushed to establish charter schools and encouraged its white families to flee, lemming-like, from elementary schools in Wilmington.
    Nonetheless, I believe that Brandywine would be much more amenable to merging with Red Clay, as part of a statewide consolidation, than becoming a smaller piece of a countywide school district.

  5. Rufus Y. Kneedog says:

    I won’t pretend that I’m an expert at this, but the notion that 19 school districts plus stand alone charters plus a State DOE is optimally efficient seems preposterous to me. If we were designing this from scratch what would it look like?

  6. That’s a great question, Rufus. The problem being that once politics, which inevitably would be a huge part of such reorganization, reared its ugly head, optimal efficiency would be impossible.

    Thus, it remains impossible.

    As does any legitimate ‘reform’ in the State of Delaware.

  7. pandora says:

    Brandywine would only secede because they did it right in the first place. Their position is valid – why should they clean up other districts’ messes?

    The fact that the NSA was all about re-segregating our schools was clear as day. BSD fought that. Shame the other districts, especially RCCD, (who could have easily done the same thing) were just fine with what was happening.

    BSD isn’t taking some elitist position. Instead focus on why other districts embraced re-segregation. RCCD embraced it so much that, during the referendum, they threatened to send suburban kids back to their city schools if the referendum failed. You need a willing audience for this threat to work.

    People always seem to forget that there was only one district and community who took action to fight the NSA. We should stop blaming them for doing what was right.

  8. Alby says:

    Oh, please. Try knowing what you’re talking about.

    Brandywine “did it right” by successfully lobbying the state to trade city districts with Red Clay. Brandywine got the more middle-class areas, Red Clay the poorest ones, reversing the situation from the first 10 or so years of desegregation. They fought the NSA because they were the district with the most to lose from it. While you celebrate the district as it now stands, the legislator who pushed hardest for it the NSA, Wayne Smith — it was his brainchild, and as I recall a certain someone ran against him over it — represented the heart of the Brandywine district, and ran successfully on his racism for years.

    This isn’t meant to defend Red Clay, which, under Bill Manning (one of the true 10 most influential people in Delaware that nobody ever writes about) spent over $1 million annually, for many years, to fight desegregation.

    It’s meant to explain that Brandywine’s hands are no cleaner than any other district’s. Only Brandywine Hundred was developed in the era when red-lining was practiced openly (Fairfax, like many smaller developments of the ’50s, barred blacks), which is why we have desegregation in the first place.

    Brandywine is not acting out the goodness of its heart. If you’re going to take this moralistic attitude towards everything, you really ought to do more research before planting your Flag of Superiority.

  9. puck says:

    Brandywine’s position is NOT valid. In a county with severe education problems caused by high concentrations of poverty, Brandwine has carved out a geographic and demographic enclave where poverty in schools is maintained at levels manageable by the school. This is the same exclusionary “special sauce” used by charters.

  10. Alby says:

    Delaware was one of the earliest states to equalize funding for the state’s poor districts, but that was long ago, and we can do better. Literally equal funding is no longer working to the level we need.

    We should become one of the early-adopters of strategies to better equalize outcomes — schools with social service centers in poor areas, higher per-student state payments for those below the free-lunch threshold — rather than chasing the charter chimera further astray.

  11. SussexAnon says:

    How about a comparison study of school districts that are of similar size of the proposed Delaware consolidated district. And see how it is run ‘more efficiently.’

    I am suspicious of a consolidated system saving us tons of money. Maybe we should just switch to GEICO.

    People like control of their districts. Or at least think they have control. Woodbridge is a ‘consolidated district of two (the residence think) unique towns, Bridgeville, and Greenwood. They fight over home turf all the time. So much they had to build equally in both towns so the ‘other’ one doesn’t get more. They even named the district so both would be in the title.

  12. mediawatch says:

    At this point, we don’t have a proposal, so there’s no basis for comparison with “similar” districts outside of Delaware. Also, given the hundreds (thousands?) of districts across the country and the varied capabilities of their managers, I’d be skeptical of many head-to-head comparisons.
    It is safe to say that consolidation will not save a hell of a lot of money because the employees of the lower-paid districts in any merger will expect to be paid at the same level as the employees of the higher-paid districts. (That issue led to a six-week teachers’ strike during the first semester of deseg in 1978, and you can bet on a repeat if a consolidation doesn’t include a “leveling up” of salaries.) Consolidation would result in eliminating some office jobs — a potential savings down the road — but not enough at the outset to offset the cost of leveling up.
    There will probably be some efficiencies gained in non-personnel areas — bulk purchases of supplies, for example.
    My point here is that consolidation should result in school districts being run more efficiently, and with “best practices” more likely to be implemented in more locations if, by way of illustration, we’ve got the seven best superintendents running seven larger districts rather than 19 superintendents — some good, some not so good — spread around the state. Consolidate if it can bring improved quality, but don’t expect it to save you money.
    On the finance issue — as hinted in my first post on this thread and seconded somewhat by Alby’s comments on equalization — the state’s school finance is an out-of-date mess that is no longer capable of directing funds to where they are needed most. School finance reform has been talked about in Delaware for at least the last 10 years — before the Chamber of Commerce types created Vision 2020, there was Vision 2010 and Vision 2015, and each of them pegged finance reform as a significant need, but nothing ever happened.
    Progressives and the Chamber types agree that there’s a need for finance reform — and they may be in more agreement on the details of this issue than most others in the state — but legislators treat it as the third rail of politics. They’re scared shitless that they’ll be voted out of office if they approve a finance package that would raise someone’s taxes by ten bucks a year.

  13. Rufus Y. Kneedog says:

    If consolidation accomplishes nothing more than higher salaries for some teachers and less money spent on overhead, I still think it would be worth pursuing.

  14. mouse says:

    Yes, every little 2 bit town in Sussex County has a 6 figure administrator and staff to manage impoverished school districts and their main concern is the football rivalry