March 29, 2001

With no preliminary discussion, Wilmington City Council voted unanimously on Mar. 29 to override Mayor James Baker's veto of its city schools plan. The action clears the way for the General Assembly to determine the future of public education in the city. 

The legislature can accept, reject or modify the plan. It also can do nothing, leaving the present four-district arrangement in force. Since the Brandywine, Christina, Colonial and Red Clay districts are required to submit plans for converting to closest-to-home student assignments to Delaware Department of  Education by November, any changes for Wilmington presumably would have to be made before the current Assembly session ends on June 30.

State Representative Wayne Smith earlier had told Delaforum the Assembly will "consider any proposal that conforms to the requirements of the Neighborhood Schools Act." He is both the leader of the Republican majority in the lower chamber and the driving force behind enactment of the controversial law.

Technically speaking, the city was two weeks past the deadline for delivering a plan to Dover. Council, however, had formally notified Assembly leaders of its original action and intent to override. Political pundits are uncertain what, if any, effect the split in city leadership concerning the schools issue will have.

The Wilmington plan, enacted in ordinance form on Mar.15, asks the Assembly to empower the city to:

  • Take the initial steps toward what Theopalis Gregory, chairman of Council's education committee, said could evolve into one of the full-fledged urban charter-school district in the country, as the Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee recommended;

  • Be divided among two, rather than four, school districts with the Brandywine being the line of demarcation, rather than attempt what is deemed politically impossible and merge the city with those districts to form a single 'metropolitan' district as the committee recommended;

  • Implement a series of 'educational enhancement' recommendations put forth by the schools committee to improve the academic performance of children living in the city; and

  • Develop a cooperative program with public libraries to serve areas identified as poor and having a low level of literacy, and to establish a statewide advocacy office for children who are learning disabled and otherwise in need of special education.

Baker  said in his veto message that he favors "a more conservative approach." While indicating that he agrees with most of the main features of the complex plan, he said he wanted something that "does not disrupt the current four district system and allows us to plan a model education program to ensure a better education for our children from pre-school to 12th grade."

Along with Council president Theodore Blunt, all 12 Council members voted to override, including Stephanie Bolden who abstained from voting on the ordinance.

The veto and the override were the first in Baker's administration. It came during an otherwise routine Council meeting about 15 minutes before the mayor ceremoniously entered the chamber to deliver his budget message. He did not refer to it nor did he have any immediate comment.

2001. All rights reserved.

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