Carson: Middle School will not open without successful referendum

By Lynn R. Parks

If the district is unable to pass a current expense referendum, the Woodbridge Middle School, currently under construction, will not open, said superintendent Kevin Carson. “There will not be enough money to pay the light bill,” Carson said. “There will not be enough money to pay the heat bill. We won’t be able to staff it. It will not open.” The $13 million construction project to build a new middle school at the site of the Early Education Childhood Center in Bridgeville is slated to be completed in January 2004, according to school board president Mike Breeding, and classes are set to begin in September 2004, Carson said. The construction was approved by the voters in a May 8, 2001, referendum. But at the same time, voters turned down by a narrow margin of 40 votes a request for increased current expense money. On Tuesday, the district will try again for a boost in current expenses. The referendum will ask voters to approve a 14.5-percent increase in their school taxes, about 2 percent less than the May referendum asked for. The district last approved a current expense increase 15 years ago. If the referendum passes, the average school tax bill will increase by $42.67 a year. “That’s $3.56 a month, or 12 cents a day,” Carson said. From the increased taxes, the district will collect $310,698 in additional local funds. In addition, it will qualify for $383,610 in state equalization funds that it cannot get now. “What really hurts is the state money that we lose,” Carson said. “I lost it last year. If this referendum doesn’t pass, I will lose it again this year.”

Breeding said that the increased funding will go toward general operating expenses, including materials and extra-curricular activities. Once the middle school opens, the money will be used to pay for music, art, foreign language, physical education and special education teachers at the middle school, as well as custodians, cafeteria workers, library staff and a nurse. Both Breeding and Carson said that programs in the district have been cut because of lack of funds. Coaches are allowed only two teams per sport, meaning that they have to choose between a middle school team and a junior varsity team. Some after-school clubs have also been eliminated. “Our students are suffering because of lack of funds,” Breeding said. “And if this doesn’t pass, we will have to do more cuts.” That makes it hard on the district, with students able to choose to go to another district or to a charter school, Carson said. “In a competitive environment, when you have less to offer it is certainly good news for your competitor,” he added. Both Breeding and Carson bristle at the suggestion that the district could spend the money that it has more wisely. “We do not have plenty of money. What we have, we spend wisely,” Breeding said. “What little resources we have we spend to improve the educational programs for our children,” Carson added.

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