A tax increase or major cuts in education spending.
That's the choice Appoquinimink School District officials say voters will be making Thursday when they head to the polls to cast their ballots on the second referendum in three months.
"This is a decision that will directly impact the students in our community," Superintendent Matt Burrows said Wednesday. "We have a great school system where more than 70 percent of our students go off to college and we hope the community comes out and supports us so we can continue to offer all our students with a well-rounded education."
Burrows, who took over as superintendent in 2011, already has seen one referendum defeated by voters.
A Feb. 28 measure that sought to raise $22.75 million in operating revenue through four years of graduated tax increases was rejected by 58 percent of the 7,934 voters who participated in that referendum.
As a result of that vote, the Appoquinimink School District faced a $2-million shortfall in the 2013-2014 school year, with larger deficits anticipated each year thereafter, which district officials attribute to a $4-million reduction in annual state funding.
"Faced with more students, less money and no way to generate revenue, we have been drawing from our reserves and cutting costs wherever possible," district spokeswoman Lilian Miles said. "Now the reserves have been depleted and can no longer cover the anticipated expenses for the next school year, so we've reached a crossroads."
The school board voted in March to undertake a three-part plan that district officials say would keep the Appoquinimink solvent for the next three to four years.
First, the board voted to save an estimated $645,000 next year by closing both Townsend Elementary School and the Appoquinimink Early Childhood Center through the 2013-2014 school year. Students from Townsend Elementary already have been attending Old State Elementary this year while their school undergoes renovations.
District officials say the closure of Appoquinimink Early Childhood Center also will allow them to convert the building into the district's lone pre-K school in time for the 2014-2015 school year.
In April, the school board enacted another $305,000 in spending cuts that included reductions for a variety of programs and line items – among them an 8-percent cut in the annual allocations to individual school building – but did not eliminate any existing staff.
The final step of the school board's plan comes before voters today in the form of a referendum that seeks to increase the district's current school tax rate of $1.60 per $100 of assessed value by 15 cents, which amounts to less than half the full 31-cent hike over four years that voters defeated in February.
If approved, the referendum would raise $2.79 million in new funding per year.
Page 2 of 2 - Combined with the $950,000 in spending cuts approved by the school board over the last two months, the tax increase would allow the district to cover its anticipated shortfalls, restore previous spending cuts on textbooks, technology and building maintenance, while meeting the state-mandated minimum in reserve funding.
If the referendum fails, district officials say the school board will be forced to eliminate 28 teaching jobs and 17 other staff positions out of the district's total workforce of 1,100.
World language programs in elementary schools, all extracurricular activities in elementary and middle schools, and freshman and junior varsity sports at the high school level also would be on the chopping block, among other programs.
For a full list of potential cuts, visit the district website at www.apposchooldistrict.com and click on the Referendum tab.