Voters in the Appoquinimink School District rejected a two-part referendum Thursday that, if approved, would have allowed the district to increase taxes in order to restore its operating funding, which the district said was needed to preserve key education programs.
Appoquinimink residents also voted against the implementation of competitive middle schools sports.
Of the 7,934 votes cast on Thursday, 58 percent of residents voted against a tax increase to restore operating funding, while 42 percent voted to support the increase.
The second line item, which asked voters to approve the addition of competitive sports at the middle school level, saw similar results with 65 percent voting against it and 35 percent voting in favor.
District officials say the referendum was needed to offset $4 million worth of state funding cuts Appoquinimink has seen since 2008.
"The results weren't what we hoped for, but this is just a setback. We'll continue to move forward and continue to do what we know is best," Appoquinimink's Superintendent Matt Burrows told district employees and community members who gathered to receive the results at the Marion Proffitt Training Center in Odessa Thursday night. "We told our story to the community, what we needed to do. We were upfront and honest with them and that's all we can ask of them. Tomorrow we'll get back out there and do what we need to do."
Burrows pointed to state cuts in transportation, school safety and reading and math specialists. In order to keep those programs afloat, the district has had to tap into its reserves for funding, he said.
"We can no longer dip into our reserves," Burrows told the Transcript earlier this month. "It came as a necessity to go out for referendum."
Burrows said the next step will be to set up a committee of various stakeholders to analyze and discuss funding cuts. Staffing cuts are likely, he said, but noted that it is too early to discuss specifics.
"I don't see how we can avoid it," Burrows said.
While a committee will be created to analyze the budget and any cuts that need to be made, Burrows said the final decision will come down to the Appoquinimink Board of Education.
Julie Johnson, the school board president, said she was surprised and disappointed in the results of Thursday's referendum.
"The kids are the ones who pay the price in the end," Johnson said. "They are our main priority. "We'll start [discussing the budget] tomorrow, and we'll do what we have to do for the kids."
The referendum was met with mixed reviews from community members leading up to the date of the vote. While signs supporting the referendum could be found in lawns and on district property, similar materials opposing the referendum were also posted.
Page 2 of 2 - For more on this story and community reaction to the referendum results, pick up a copy of next Thursday's Middletown Transcript.