Teachers call for resignation of other board members

UPDATE: Sussex Technical School Board President Patrick Cooper has resigned his position.

"I am no longer with the school board because I have some family things to deal with," he said. "I'm not a public official. I’m just a normal guy that worked hard for a school for 14 years. It's time for some new blood."

Sussex Technical High School English teacher and Delaware State Teacher of the Year Virginia Forcucci is one of over a dozen teachers who recently asked incumbent school board members to resign.

"I'm grateful that he did what was best for the students, teachers and our community," she said.

Board members George Torbert, Judy Emory, Teresa Carey and Warren Reid have not yet resigned, despite calls to do so.

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Sussex Technical High School faculty will meet with Gov. John Carney later this month to discuss their concerns regarding the Sussex Technical Board of Education.

At a school board meeting on June 11, teachers asked five board members, excluding two of whom were recently appointed, to resign.

“In short, we are asking that school board president Pat Cooper, vice president George Torbert, board members Teresa Carey, Judy Emory and Warren Reid respectfully resign [their] positions so we can get back to what we do best: providing families in this county with quality vocational and technical education,” said Anthony Natoli, an English teacher at STHS and the 2018-2019 district Teacher of the Year.

Similar sentiments were echoed by 13 other teachers at the meeting.

“In the wake of the June 2017 auditor’s report, this school board suspended three district administrators. Six months later, those administrators subsequently resigned their positions,” said teacher Beth Bendistis. “While the auditor’s report clearly illustrates the improprieties of both the district administration and the school board, only the administration has been disciplined and vacated their positions as a result.”

The report

Delaware State Auditor Thomas Wagner issued a report on Sussex Technical School District’s land acquisition and construction management services on June 8, 2017, which detailed financial improprieties between Sussex Tech and businesses owned by Michael Horsey, of Laurel.

In 2012, Governmental Services LLC, a business Horsey owned, purchased a parcel of land for $110,000. Horsey was aware that the parcel would be needed by Sussex Tech for a bus entrance project, and just two weeks later, the Sussex Tech BOE approved the purchase of the parcel from Governmental Services for $200,000, allowing Horsey to rake in an 82 percent profit. The deal was made without conducting a land appraisal or price negotiation.

“Paying $200,000 … without conducting price negotiations demonstrates this board’s lack of financial responsibility concerning taxpayer money,” said teacher Kristin Carmen at the June 9 meeting.

In addition, the report found that another Horsey business, Common Sense Solutions LLC, was subsequently hired by Sussex Tech to construct the bus entrance. From there, Sussex Tech skirted the law by allowing CSS to “piggyback” onto other project contracts, also without price negotiation. Further, those projects allowed Horsey to charge the district an extra 10 percent on reimbursable items such as supplies, amongst other financial improprieties.

In total, Sussex Tech paid CSS over $3.8 million between July 2011 and November 2016. Contracts between the two ended in June 2017. Later that year, Sussex Tech Superintendent A.J. Lathbury, Assistant Superintendent Curtis Bunting and Business Manager Edward Seibert resigned their positions. Whether they are receiving pensions is unknown as the school system refuses to say and pension information is considered private by the state.

Requests for resignations

Since the June 11, 2018 school board meeting, teachers have not received definitive answers from Reid, Carey or Emory regarding their resignation. Board president Pat Cooper told teachers he would not resign and vice president George Torbert told them he would be finishing his term. Whether he will continue on the board after that time is unclear.

When reached by phone, Cooper declined to comment.

“I really can’t figure out what their motivation is for staying,” said Virginia Forcucci, a Sussex Tech English teacher and the current Delaware State Teacher of the Year.

Sussex Tech school board members are appointed by the governor. They are not paid for their services. Those being asked to resign were all appointed before Carney took office, but he has the power to remove them if he finds it necessary.

Forcucci is focusing her efforts on two upcoming dates: a July 9 school board meeting and a meeting with Carney later in the month.

Teachers will again rally to ask for resignations at the July 9 meeting, and Forucci encouraged the public’s participation.

“If they come on July 9 I think they’ll get all the info they need,” she said. “I think hearing from both sides is really important - or hearing from one side and the silence on the other.”

If there is again no response from the school board, Forcucci and several others will meet with the governor.

“We’re really excited about that,” she said.

If the governor declines to remove the incumbent board members, teachers will continue to attend board meetings and request resignations.

“The disconnect between the board and the staff has become a chasm that cannot be bridged,” Forcucci said. “And they have to leave for us to be able to move forward.”