Wilmington School Redistricting Moves Forward under New Laws

Photos from the event

Governor signs legislation to redraw district lines and better serve city’s high-need students

Wilmington, DE – Emphasizing the opportunity to solve a decades-long problem that has limited educational opportunities for children in the City of Wilmington, Governor Markell today signed two bills that pave the way for redrawing school district boundaries to reduce the number of districts in the City and help families better participate in their children’s schools.

The laws were advocated by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC), which was established by the Governor, at the suggestion of city legislators, to engage the community in Markell’s call to address educational challenges in Wilmington schools. Current and retired teachers, community leaders, parents, and concerned citizens worked on solutions, including a plan to address the now-problematic district lines drawn 40 years ago by a federal judge as part of the desegregation of City schools.BillSigning

“Forty years of using lines drawn by a federal judge is enough,” said Markell at a signing ceremony at the historic site of Hockessin Colored School #107, famously attended by eight-year old Sarah Bulah before she and her family successfully challenged school segregation. “We should respect the wishes of City children, parents, community leaders, and their elected representatives, and seize this moment of opportunity – a moment when we have more attention on the needs of Wilmington’s children than at perhaps any time in decades.”

WEAC, which issued recommendations that led to the legislation, was created in tandem with Markell’s announcement of the Priority Schools initiative to better support students at the lowest-performing schools in the state, all of which were served youth from struggling Wilmington neighborhoods. The redistricting plan was adopted as a way to not only transform those schools, but also improve the education of students throughout the City.

“We needed to tap into the passions of Wilmingtonians who have a valuable perspective on education in the City, but whose voices are not regularly heard. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee did just that,” said Markell. “Our initiative to address the inequitable educational opportunities for so many Wilmington youth has turned into something bigger.

“A successful redrawing of district lines will remove the Christina School District from the City and will help more families fully participate in their children’s education. If we are successful, we will see the long overdue end of forty years of busing many students far from their homes – a system that made it difficult for families and the community to engage in their schools.”

The legislation signed by the Governor included Senate Bill 122, which would allow for redrawing school district boundaries in the City of Wilmington. The new lines must be consistent with recommendations of WEAC. The redistricting plan will be developed by the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, a group established by House Bill 148, also signed today, to advise the state on improvements from schools that have high concentrations of underprivileged students.BillSigning

WEIC will also create a transition plan to provide necessary services to affected schools and students and effectively implement school district realignment. The plan must be submitted to the State Board of Education, which must act by December 31, 2015.  It must then be submitted to the General Assembly and the Governor for final approval. WEIC will also monitor the progress of implementation and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations

“It is critically important that we take a comprehensive and strategic look at schools in Wilmington in a way that acknowledges the unique challenges and opportunities we have there,” said Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East). “SB 122 gives education officials an opportunity to redraw school district lines in a way I believe will yield a more well-connected network of schools that will better serve our children.”

“The members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Commission spent hundreds of hours working on this and engaging the public to get us to this point,” said Representative Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow), who chairs the House Education Committee. “I thank them for their diligent work, and now we need to get the Improvement Commission moving forward to make their hard work pay dividends. I have complete confidence that they are going to come up with great ideas to overcome the obstacles out there to make redistricting happen. After that, it is up to the General Assembly and the Governor to enact a plan. Then we will be able to move education in Wilmington forward.”

“I want to thank all those involved in this process for all of their hard work on these issues,” said Representative Charles Potter (D-Wilmington North). “We now have a chance to make a big difference in the lives of so many of our young people and I look forward to working with the new commission, my fellow legislators, and the Governor to get the job done.”


Governor Markell signs new bill to enable DNREC to issue low-numbered surf fishing vehicle plates

Rehoboth Beach, DE – Governor Jack Markell, DNREC Secretary David Small, legislators and surf fishing groups and enthusiasts were on hand today as the Governor signed HB348, which allows DNREC and the Division of Parks & Recreation to issue low-numbered surf vehicle plates (1-1000) by sale or auction.HB348

Each year, Delaware State Parks officials will release a number of low digit tags through a live auction in spring/early summer for a limited number of tags. The auction will occur in a clearly defined period. Once a person wins the bid, they will retain the tag as long as they continue to purchase their annual surf fishing permit sticker. This will be followed by an online auction for up to 100 total tags, where customers can bid on the numbered plate they are interested in. It is anticipated that the program will be in place by Memorial Day, 2015.

“This legislation has the potential to be a strong revenue source to benefit our state parks,” said Gov. Markell. “This year, more than 14,000 surf tags were sold, generating about $1.3 million for our state parks. So not only is this legislation a revenue-raiser for our  parks, it appeals to parks users who have an affinity for low digit tags – and we in Delaware know that will appeal to a large number of potential buyers.”

The purchase of the low-numbered surf fishing plates is optional. If someone chooses not to purchase the numbered plate, they can continue to buy a surf fishing permit as they currently do. Once a low-number tag is purchased, the tag is retained by the purchaser as long as they continue to buy their annual surf fishing permit.HB348

“Our state parks rely on outside revenues for about 65 percent of our budget”, said DNREC Secretary Small. “This is another example of working collaboratively with the General Assembly on innovative, often market-based initiatives to generate funds for our parks – which we know are a strong driver for Delaware’s tourism economy. Our sincere thanks go to Representative John Atkins, prime sponsor of the bill, and Senator David McBride for their leadership and support of this legislation.”

The funds generated by the new plates will be used to support day-to-day operations and maintenance – particularly at the state’s ocean parks. Numbered tags were issued by DNREC’s Division of Parks & Recreation until the practice was discontinued in 1994, but the tags have remained popular with collectors and surf fishing enthusiasts.

The Division of Parks & Recreation is currently developing the process for administering the program to implement the fulfillment for the plates. This will benefit both customers and the Division of Parks & Recreation by entering all customer information needed to purchase the plates into a database that will streamline and shorten the purchasing of a surf tag in the future.

It will also help the Division retain important surf fishing permit user information for enforcement purposes. The new operating system to create the new low digit tags is scheduled to receive requests in late spring/early summer. The ability to auction the plates will be included in a Request for Proposals being developed by Government Support Services.

Photos from event

Governor Markell signs bill declassifying and updating fines for certain hunting, fishing and boating offenses

Dover, DE – Today at Wilmington’s DuPont Environmental Education Center, as DNREC Secretary David S. Small and Delaware Chief Justice Leo Strine looked on, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed legislation that changes more than three dozen less severe environmental offenses associated with wildlife, hunting, fishing and boating from environmental misdemeanors to environmental violations and exempts these violations from being included in state criminal history records. Sponsored by Sen. David McBride and co-sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan, Senate Bill 258 also updates and raises minimum fines for these environmental violations.

“I thank Senator McBride, along with Representative Heffernan, for their leadership in recognizing that many of our less severe environmental violations no longer need to be a criminal offense, and that we can provide an effective deterrent for potential violators by increasing fines while having violation records retained by DNREC,” said Governor Markell. “In this way, DNREC will continue to have the legal tools it needs to protect our natural resources without involving criminal courts.”

DNREC Secretary Dave Small spoke about SB258.
DNREC Secretary Dave Small spoke about SB258.

“Senate Bill 258 effectively modernizes and updates Delaware law to help support the work that DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Section’s Natural Resources Police, does to protect and conserve Delaware’s fish, wildlife and habitat, and to provide for safe boating,” said DNREC Secretary Small. “It also reflects our commitment to achieve compliance with Delaware’s conservation and boating laws through education and necessary enforcement actions.”

“It’s important to constantly be alert to opportunities to use taxpayer dollars more wisely and to make our laws more just. This bill does both, by striking a much better balance, which will enable our environmental laws to be enforced more effectively and, as important, with less burden on DNREC, the courts, and Board of Pardons,” Chief Justice Strine said. “Meanwhile, justice is better served by not placing obstacles to employment in front of people who commit minor environmental offenses.”

“Many of the people who have historically been arrested for violating these laws have been pursuing both commercial and recreational interests,” said Sen. McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest. “One of the consequences was that individuals arrested ended up with criminal records which could have an impact on their ability to find jobs or pursue an education. This legislation eliminates the possibility of having a criminal history but at the same time creates a greater financial incentive for not breaking the law.”

“I’m proud to have sponsored this new law,” said House sponsor Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “This is a jobs bill because it will keep environmental violations off a person’s criminal record, which is important for pre-employment criminal background checks, while at the same time it will strengthen deterrence by raising the fines for wildlife, fishing and boating violations.”

Governor Markell and bill sponsor State Representative Debra Heffernan after SB258 legislation signed into law.
Governor Markell and bill sponsor State Representative Debra Heffernan with signed bill SB258.

What Senate Bill 258 does:

  • Declassifies a number of less severe offenses associated with wildlife, hunting, trapping, fishing and boating by changing them from Class C and D environmental misdemeanors to environmental violations;
  • Stipulates that these environmental violations will not be reported on criminal history records kept by the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, used by police agencies throughout the state for criminal background checks;
  • Examples of these environmental violations include: hunting, fishing or trapping without a license; trespassing to hunt, fish or trap; and improper marking of commercial crab or lobster pots;
  • Authorizes DNREC to retain records on environmental violations to ensure that second offenses and higher penalties are pursued when appropriate;
  • Raises the minimum fine for Class C environmental violations from $50 to $100 for first offenses, and the Class D environmental violations from $25 to $50 for first offenses; and
  • Changes the jurisdiction for a number of environmental violations from Superior Court to Magistrate Court.

Governor Jack Markell signs House Bill 310 to create Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation

FORT DUPONT STATE PARK – Surrounded by supporters, area legislators, and Delaware City officials, Governor Jack Markell signed legislation to advance the revitalization of what he called “one of the most underutilized sites in the state.”

Governor Markell signed House Bill 310, establishing the Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation.
Governor Markell signed House Bill 310, establishing the Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation.

House Substitute 1 to House Bill 310, sponsored by Representative Valerie Longhurst (D-Delaware City, Bear) and Senator Nicole Poore (D-Delaware City, New Castle), creates the Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation to spearhead the renovation, redevelopment and preservation of the Fort DuPont complex.

“Fort DuPont’s rich history, distinctive architecture, and abundant natural resources serve as a solid foundation for the site’s rebirth,” said Governor Jack Markell. “By strategically breathing new life into the Fort DuPont complex, we can create a destination that connects with the majestic Delaware Bayshore, Fort Delaware State Park, the Michael Castle C&D Canal Trail, and the many exciting new projects now under way in Delaware City.

“We have two choices. We can abandon our history or we can restore it. And we’re here because we have chosen to do everything we can to restore it. Today we take the next major step in helping Fort DuPont reach its great potential.”

The legislation sets the stage for the reuse and rehabilitation of the underutilized former military facility, which played a role in both World Wars and housed a military community for decades. The Fort was actively used as a military base from the Civil War through World War II. The renovation, redevelopment and preservation plan was outlined in the Fort DuPont master plan unveiled last spring.

DNREC partnered with Delaware City to coordinate a diverse group of state and local stakeholders and community members who worked together since 2012 to develop a master plan, which aims to preserve the site’s historic buildings and landscapes while accommodating new private sector and institutional uses to reactivate the site and promote economic progress for current and future generations. The new Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation will oversee the master plan’s implementation.

DNREC Secretary Dave Small spoke on the historical importance of Fort DuPont.
DNREC Secretary Dave Small spoke on the historical importance of Fort DuPont.

“Fort DuPont has played an important role in Delaware’s history and this legislation will help assure that this site does not fall victim to neglect,” said DNREC Secretary David S. Small.   “This legislation builds on the strong and innovative partnerships that were developed during the creation of the master plan which provides a framework for potential limited development and improved resiliency of the site.”

The master plan focuses on reuse and redevelopment strategies for the portion of the Fort DuPont Complex located northeast of Route 9. The Fort DuPont property is distinguished by its extraordinary waterfront location, its network of riverside trails, recreational amenities, and historic buildings and landscapes. It occupies a strategic location within the state and region as the northern gateway to the Delaware Bayshore and an anchor point on the Michael Castle Trail.

The Corporation will be comprised of an 11 member Board of Directors, including the Cabinet Secretaries of Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Department of Health and Social Services, and the Department of State, or their designees. In addition, the Office of State Planning and Controller General will have spots along with four appointees from the Mayor and Council of Delaware City. The Governor will appoint a chair. The law also provides for a 13 member Advisory Council that will assist the Board in carrying out its duties through specific expertise in areas such as historic preservation, parks and recreation, and real estate.

“This project will be such a gem for the area and will preserve a wonderful legacy at Fort DuPont,” said Longhurst. “It also sets the groundwork for a transformation or expansion of the Governor Bacon Health Complex to grow to meet the demands of the region in the 21st century.”

The master plan establishes a shared community vision and implementation strategy to evolve Fort DuPont into a model “live-work-learn-play-visit” community. It emphasizes expanding recreational opportunities, restoring wildlife habitat, restoring historic buildings, removing blight and creating opportunities to increase tourism. This long-term vision for the reuse of Fort DuPont builds upon the site’s National Historic District status, the existing assets of the park, and the area’s cultural, natural and recreational amenities.

“When you walk around the area at Fort DuPont and Governor Bacon Health Center, you can’t help but take in the great history of this place and its immense promise for the future,” said Poore. “It’s our hope that this plan will allow us to develop an asset to the Delaware City community that both realizes its economic potential and respects its historical significance.”

The plan also calls for significant analysis of the hydrology of the site, which has experienced challenges from flooding in the past. Any future development of the complex will be required to meet strict standards of flood plain management and sea level rise adaptation.

The 325-acre complex, designated as a National Historic District, is located along the Delaware River and is delineated by the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal on the south and the Branch Canal, currently separating it from Delaware City on the north. It includes Fort DuPont State Park, Governor Bacon Health Center, and a complex of state-owned buildings and residences.

Fort Delaware State Park sits across from the property on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware Bay. The final draft of the Fort DuPont master plan is available for review or download on the DNREC website.

Photos from the event