Wilmington may go to court to force a countywide property reassessment

The Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington

In a courtroom packed with spectators, attorneys for the state and all three counties jousted with lawyers representing several plaintiffs who allege in a lawsuit that Delaware's system of funding education is unfair.

The lawsuit was filed several months ago by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP, with the involvement of the ACLU. Wednesday, oral arguments were heard in Chancery Court.

For about two hours, the lawyers went back and forth over issues of jurisdiction, tax formulas and reassessments, what's contained in the state's Constitution about education, and ultimately where does the responsibility lie.

Vice Chancellor Travis Laster began with the third count in the complaint, which names the financial officers in New Castle, Kent and Sussex Counties. That portion may be considered separately from the other two counts, which focus on financial resources to education.

Governor John Carney, Education Secretary Susan Bunting and State Treasurer Ken Simpler were represented in court by Barry Willoughby of the law firm Young Conaway.

"I think there's an agreement that the Governor is fully supportive of improving public education. I think it's a weighty constitutional issue about where and how that gets done," Willoughby told WDEL News after the oral arguments.

Richard Morse, attorney for the NAACP and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity, told WDEL the state has a failed system.

"That's exactly the problem. The facts alleged in the complaint show that they have failed to satisfy the Delaware Constitution," Morse said.

According to Morse, a common judicial remedy in these types of cases is to explain that there's a violation, why there's a violation, then to give the legislature the first chance to come up with a detailed plan for corrective measures.

Vice Chancellor Laster said he is taking the oral arguments under advisement. Normal guidelines call for an opinion within 90 days.