In response to a recent request for a tax ceiling increase, two local legislators have drafted a bill that would require vocational technical school district boards of education members be elected, rather than appointed by the governor.

In response to a recent request for a tax ceiling increase, two local legislators have drafted a bill that would require vocational technical school district boards of education members be elected, rather than appointed by the governor.

Earlier this month, officials from the Sussex Technical School District in Georgetown announced the potential layoffs of 24 district employees due to a roughly $1 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2015 budget to cover personnel costs. The district is seeking a tax ceiling increase that would allow the school board to explore the possibility of a tax rate increase.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown), one of the bill’s sponsors, said while the idea of an elected vo-tech school board has been considered in the past, the Sussex Tech tax increase brought the issue to the forefront.

“We’ve been hearing from a lot of people that they would like a referendum [on the proposed tax hike] and they would like the school board that’s proposing it to be held accountable,” Pettyjohn said. “Right now, they are only held to the accountability of the governor, and even then, only when it comes time for their re-appointment in seven years.”

As it stands, the Sussex Technical, Polytech and New Castle County Vo-Tech school boards are appointed by the governor. Each board consists of seven members who serve seven-year terms. The proposed legislation would have the boards made up of the same number of members as there are districts in their home county. In Sussex County, the revamped board would consist of five members that serve four-year terms. The board members would have to reside within their respective districts.

“We wanted to find the simplest solution to carve out these districts so that the public is represented fairly and represented well,” Pettyjohn said. “We’ve already got a template for that with the County Council and Levy Court districts, so we went with that.”

If the legislation is approved before June 30, the end of the current legislative session, elections for all five districts in Sussex County would be held in November. Two of the districts would hold initial two-year terms to allow for future staggered elections.

Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown), the bill’s other sponsor, is a former vo-tech teacher and said legislation like this is overdue.

“The school boards of our other 16 public school districts are elected by the citizens they serve,” Briggs King said. “I do not see any reason why the technical districts should be different.”

The bill is currently being circulated for sponsorship and is expected to be filed in the Senate this week.

A.J. Lathbury, superintendent of Sussex Tech, said there is no reason to initiate this sort of change when his district followed the process for review of and requested ability to initiate a tax ceiling increase to the letter of the law.

“Now we are avidly awaiting support of that process since it has been affirmed … that the proposed tax rate increase is sufficient to meet required operating costs while satisfying enrollment growth,” Lathbury said.

The district has requested the current tax ceiling be increased by 12 cents in fiscal 2015 and three cents each of the following five years for a total of 27 cents.