Sussex Tech school board to meet today

NEWTON. The Sussex County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approves a vote of no confidence in the administration and school board of Sussex Technical High School.

Newton /
| 13 May 2024 | 08:45

The Sussex County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a vote of no confidence in the administration and school board of Sussex Technical High School at its meeting April 24.

The move, which means the commissioners no longer support the superintendent or school board, came after Sussex Tech Superintendent Gus Modla and Business Administrator/Board Secretary Jenny Deuel answered questions from the commissioners for nearly an hour about a plan to cut three shops to close a gap in its budget for the 2024-25 school year.

The Sussex Tech Board of Education unanimously tabled proposed cuts of the architecture, graphic communications and theater arts shops at its meeting April 18 after listening to more than 100 students, parents, alumni and staff members criticize that plan.

The Sussex Tech board has announced a special meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, May 13 in the school auditorium. The agenda is expected to be available Wednesday, May 8.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 16 in the school library.

Before approving the vote of no confidence, the commissioners criticized Modla for failing to bring the budget problem to them before it was publicized on social media.

Budget hole

Chris Carney, deputy director of the commissioners board, pointed out that the commissioners approved a 2024-25 budget of about $7.9 million for Sussex Tech, $249,000 less than requested, “never knowing that you were going to be in this hole.”

“I just don’t understand why we’re here,” he said, noting that Modla had not mentioned a big gap when he came before the commissioners to discuss the proposed budget.

Commissioner Earl Schick said Modla had told the commissioners that Sussex Tech had a waiting list of students and its enrollment was up substantially. “You were very positive about the enrollment and the extra funding.

“We don’t feel good about that presentation” after hearing about a week later that three shops would be cut, he said.

Jill Space, director of the commissioners board, said the commissioners cannot do anything about the Sussex Tech budget now that the county budget has been approved.

She noted that the commissioners board appoints members of the Sussex Tech school board. “When it comes time for reappointment, we might be appointing some new board members. ... Maybe people are ready for some change.”

She endorsed the idea of a citizens advisory committee, suggested by some parents, as a way for Sussex Tech officials to regain the community’s trust.

No new programs

Responding to a question from Space, Modla said Sussex Tech aims to maintain its current programs but does not expect to add any in the next five to 10 years.

Answering a question from Commissioner Jack DeGroot, Modla said the three shops proposed to be cut were chosen by looking at enrollment, interest from incoming freshmen and the ability of affected students to move to a related program. For example, those enrolled in graphic communications could move to commercial art and those in architecture could move to the engineering or construction shops.

Some shops, such as agriculture, do have low enrollments but are closely tied to the county’s economy, he noted.

While the theater arts shop is scheduled to close, the teachers would remain to teach an Introduction to Theater class to all Sussex Tech students, he said. In addition, the 10 students who would be seniors next year would be permitted to graduate from that shop next year.

“Programs do evolve and change,” he said, recalling that the vehicle maintenance shop was phased out and the teacher worked with the automotive shop.

Sussex Tech received a grant in 2018 to help fund an expansion, which is under way, Modla said. Sussex County is providing a quarter of the cost with the rest coming from the state.

The school’s pool is being demolished; two classrooms for the allied health program will be added; and space to house computers will be added for the engineering shop.

Modla said no administrative jobs have been added in the past two years. One administrator job was cut this year, and those responsibilities were added to those of another administrator, who received a raise.