The Appoquinimink School District's two requests for tax hikes in the last three months have left many in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend community questioning the district's spending and decision making.
Parents, teachers and taxpayers have all expressed some level of frustration over the failed Feb. 28 referendum, as well as the spending cuts and school closures approved in the weeks leading up to Thursday's vote in favor of a 15-cent school tax increase.
This week, three of the four candidates running for one seat on the Appoquinimink school board in the May 14 election said the district must immediately begin working to heal that rift.
Incumbent Edna Cale and challengers Matt Brown and Kelly Wright each said their goal would be to foster more open communication and greater transparency in district operations. Miguel Gonzalez did not return email and phone messages seeking comments by the Transcript deadline.
Cale said she believes that process began with the 22 information sessions the district held in advance of today's referendum.
"Not only are the discussions about the upcoming referendum, but other concerns, as well," she said. "The district can continue the process by developing a regular schedule to meet and share a summary of progress being made in the areas of concern, such as financial solvency, growth, future plans and academic success, while seeking [the public's] support and participation in the political process."
Wright said the school board, more than district officials, should be the ones to take the initiative by establishing informal monthly meetings with community members, giving monthly reports on the state of the district in the local newspaper and generally encouraging greater community participation in the district's various leadership and advisory committees.
"If M.O.T. residents are better informed about decisions, are participating on committees and providing their input into the decision-making process, they will have greater ownership of how our district operates," she said.
Brown said he would personally meet with community members and make routine visits to each school in the district.
"Being a stay-at-home dad allows me the flexibility to visit schools throughout the day, attend community meetings and set up regular meetings with our residents," he said. "I promise to get out into our schools and show that the school board is here for everyone, not just a select group. We may not agree on every topic, but we must learn to communicate without the negative attacks."
All three candidates also said streaming the school board's monthly meetings on the district website would go a long way toward keeping the community informed.
"How can high school students video chat with Asia, and yet our district and board can't figure out how to place monthly meetings online," Brown asked, adding that email alerts would be another way the district could use technology to better communicate with the community.
Page 2 of 2 - Cale agreed, adding that even streaming video from meetings afterward would be preferable to nothing at all.
"This will allow those who cannot attend the meetings to go to the web site and see what happened," she said. "Then they can continue to interface with board members about areas of concern."
Wright said she also supports streaming board meetings on the district website, which would satisfy the requirements of a bill in the Delaware General Assembly that seeks to require school districts to release digital recordings of their meetings within seven business days.
"The board and the district should do whatever they can to make sure those community members who cannot attend monthly meetings are still informed about what is going on," she said.