Seaford School District planning referendum to raise $1.5 million

By Lynn R. Parks

The Seaford School District is asking its citizens to support a $1.5 million tax increase. The school board voted last Monday night to hold a referendum on the request on Feb. 27.

The additional money, which would go into the districts current expenses fund, would support the Delaware New Tech Academy at the high school and the International Baccalaureate programs at the high school and middle school, would pay for new teachers in the elementary schools and middle school, and would pay for hallway monitors in the high school and middle school.

The vote to approve the referendum was 4 to 1, with board member Frank Parks casting the lone no vote. He is not pleased that the board has opted, for now, not to move eighth graders into the high school and fifth graders into the middle school, a plan that was originally agreed to by the board in January 2011 when it voted to ask for a tax increase to renovate and add to the high school. The move was intended to alleviate crowding in the elementary schools.

Parks is the only member left from that 2011 board.

We asked the community for money three years ago, and we didnt do what we said we would do, Parks said. Now, we are asking for more money. I have a hard time justifying it.

But board president Mike Smith said that the district did not promise to move fifth and eighth graders. The Certificate of Necessity that it submitted to the state to request funding only says that renovations at the high school will allow for grade level reconfigurations.

If the board at that time thought that it voted to move eighth and fifth grades, it voted on inaccurate information, Smith said.

Smith also said that the high school, which is still undergoing renovation, is not able to accommodate another grade. The board plans to look at the elementary crowding issue again in April. (See related story, page 10.)

In a presentation to the board, superintendent Shawn Joseph said that the additional tax dollars would help to replace $1.4 million that the district received this year through the federal governments Race to the Top program and that it wont receive next year.

That money has helped to turn the district around, Joseph said. Students in all of the districts six schools are showing improvements in various tests and measures; at the high school, for example, students last year, for the first time in 10 years, met the states requirement for Adequate Yearly Progress and had the second-highest growth rate in test scores in the state, he said.

Our Race to the Top funds were seed money that helped our students to excel, Joseph said. These expenditures were very focused; there was nothing wasteful there. When we lose the $1.4 million at the end of the year, what will we take away?

School taxes now in the Seaford district are $3.36 per $100 of a propertys assessed value, $2.02 of which is for current expenses.

Under the administrations proposal, the current expense portion would go up to $2.76 per $100. At the same time, the districts debt service tax is expected to go down next year, by 16 cents per $100 of a propertys assessed value.

If the referendum is approved, the net increase would be 58 cents per $100. Total school tax would be $3.94 per $100 of assessed value.

For the average home in the district, with an assessed value of nearly $17,000, the hike would mean an additional $98 a year in taxes.

A third of the additional money, $500,000, would be used for New Tech and the International Baccalaureate programs, paying for staff, training and materials. About $750,000 would pay for 10 new teachers, two in each of the districts four elementary schools and two in the middle school.

Another $150,000 would enable the district to continue to employ teachers that were hired with Race to the Top funds.

With the remaining $100,000, the district would hire high school and middle school monitors. The monitors who are in the schools this year are employed by a contractor.

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