Residents in the Appoquinimink School District will be voting on a two-part referendum Feb. 28 that addresses the more than $4 million in state funding cuts.
The first part of the referendum is a necessity, said Superintendent Matthew Burrows. If it doesn't pass, there will be significant staffing cuts on all levels, larger class sizes, and less programs and opportunities for students.
If passed, school taxes for the average homeowner will increase $18.96 per month in 2014, and continue to increase in steps until 2017.
Part one restores the operational funding and reserves, Burrows said. The money will be used to continue the district's high standard of education and to upgrade textbooks, technology, and maintain the buildings.
"Once maintenance falls behind, it's a struggle to keep up," said Chief Financial Officer Chuck Longfellow
Usually Appoquinimink test scores rank in the top three statewide, he said. The district is also the only one to be named to the A.P. honor roll in the state of Delaware.
People move to the area so that their children can attend Appoquinimink schools, Burrows said.
"We're looking to maintain our quality and protect the learning environment," he said.
The district was forced to begin making deep cuts into education in 2008 when it saw a 17 percent increase in student enrollment, but a 10 percent decrease in discretionary funding per pupil by the state.
All districts across the state have been impacted by budget cuts and several others will be voting on referendum in the upcoming year.
Appoquinimink has absorbed some of the more than $4 million in state funding cuts by dipping into its reserves, Longfellow said, but if the district continues to do this, they will run out of money.
"The cuts were not completely absorbed," he said. "We're still using reserves to keep things going."
The district is projecting to have only $900,000 left in its reserves by the end of 2013. In 2009, there was $5.4 million in reserve funds, but this number has continued to decrease since then.
"We've been using the reserves and it can't sustain us anymore," Longfellow said. "We still are putting out a good educational product, but its in jeopardy."
When the state first made cuts to education in 2008, the district hope that they were only temporary.
They also were also unsure of the growth – which has spiked since 2008.
In 2011, the district was hit with another unanticipated cost.
Up until the 2011-2012 school year, the state paid for all transportation costs. Two years ago, the district had to start paying for 10 percent of these costs.
With these funding cuts and additional costs, the district has had to make some cutbacks.
Page 2 of 3 - They cashed in money that would have been used for five additional administrator positions and are using it for substitute teachers.
"Our goal is to keep the resources in the classrooms where the kids are," Burrows said.
There are 41 administrators in Appoquinimink – 11 in the district office and 30 spread across its 15 schools.
Nearly 30 staff members have also been laid off in the past two years, which has resulted in increased class sizes in the high schools and in some fourth and fifth grade class rooms.
Some of the classes have more than 30 students in them.
They have also had to hold off on upgrading technology and textbooks district wide.
"We had a plan in place to upgrade classroom technology, but we've had to slow it down," Longfellow said. "We're using the money to keep our techies employed to work on what we do have."
Some have questioned why the school would build two new schools with the risk of a budget deficit.
The money for construction comes from separate budgets, Longfellow said. Funds in the Operational Budget and Capital Investments cannot be intertwined.
In 2008 when the money was set aside for the Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center and Old State Elementary School.
"We were growing so fast that we needed a plan," Longfellow said.
Some of the schools were busting at the seams.
Brickmill had more than 800 student enrolled, so the elementary school was needed, Burrows said.
"Now we have rooms available for growth," he said.
The second part of the 2013 referendum is completely separate from the first part.
It will only pass though if the Operational Referendum passes.
It proposes bringing competitive sports to the district's middle schools and will increase school taxes an additional $1.55 per month.
"The community has asked for middle schools sports and we want to give them an opportunity to vote on it," Burrows said.
If passed, current facilities will be used to introduce boys' and girls' teams in volleyball, cross country, basketball, and wrestling in the fall and winter, and devote the spring season to intramural competitions.
"Good schools benefit everyone," Burrows said. "They make communities safer, improve and preserve real estate values, and increase the quality of life."
The last time that the district increased taxes for operating expenses was in 2006.
The referendum passed in 2009 did not require tax increases and was used for capital investments.
Tax increase per month by year if passed
Page 3 of 3 - 2015 +$21.88