Budget has $2.49 million deficit.

By Christopher Kersey

chris.kersey@doverpost.com

The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education has approved a 13.8 percent property tax increase and approved a budget which runs a deficit and cuts programs.

At the same meeting on July 11, the board also approved the designs of the new elementary school and another new building containing a middle school and high school.

Effective immediately, the property tax rate will increase by about 25 cents from $1.8473 to $2.1024 per $100 assessed value. District officials have delivered the tax warrant—which lists the new rate--to the New Castle County government. The property tax bills should be mailed out by the end of this month.

Most of the tax increase was approved by the voters in a referendum in December 2016. The hike pays for a new elementary school, a new combination middle and high school and additional operating costs. The rest of the increase is for the tuition tax which pays for district children to attend schools that specialize in programs for students with disabilities.

For now, the district’s budget has a $2.49 million deficit, caused by more expenses than revenues. Those numbers are “conservative” said Chuck Longfellow, the district’s finance director. “We can run a deficit, but we can’t run out of money,” he said.

He blames the deficit on the state government not reassessing properties statewide. The properties haven’t been reassessed since 1983. New properties are still assessed at 1983 levels, he said.

As for reducing the deficit, Longfellow said revenues may come in higher than originally thought and individual departments in the district may find cuts.

Already the preliminary budget, approved by the school board, contains reductions in spending, including eliminating the black and white photography program and the textiles program. That translates into cutting two positions.

Also, two administrative director positions and one supervisor position will remain unfilled. Other staff reductions include two administrative intern positions, two secretaries, 12 part-time lunch aides, and two hall monitors.

Longfellow said most, if not all, of the people in those positions have moved to other parts of the district. He wasn’t sure of the exact numbers.

The state government also cut the district’s budget.

The governor’s proposed budget cut education statewide, which, at the time, translated into a $3.1 million budget cut for the Appoquinimink School District.

But because of the agreement among General Assembly legislators, the budget cuts were reduced in size, translating into a new reduction of $1.8 million to $2 million for the Appoquinimink School District, said District Superintendent Matt Burrows, in a summer statement to parents and staff.

Since the cut is less than expected, “it means we are able to bring back reading specialists, elementary Spanish, and year-round math for our high school students,” Burrows said.

However, other cost-saving measures will remain in place. Burrows also mentioned the cut of the photography and textiles programs and the other ones Longfellow named.

Burrows said, “The budget for every department and school has been reduced. EPER (extra pay for extra work) positions have been reduced. Conservation measures for energy/utilities will result in new limitations. We will all be working to do more with less in the year ahead.”

But the district’s commitment continues to implement the technology at high school and at middle school levels, Burrows said. “Electronic tablets will be issued to grades 9-10 this year. By 2020, all high schoolers will have a device. Middle schools are already fully equipped. Over time, our replenishment plan calls for older devices to be recycled down to elementary schools where we can extend their shelf life while meeting the needs of younger grades.”

Construction of new schools remain on time and on budget.

At the school board’s July 11 meeting, Bob Hershey, construction project manager, provided an update and showed the board preliminary designs for the new schools.

The new elementary school, planned for the Town of Whitehall area north of Middletown, will have 39 classrooms, cost an estimated $32.42 million, and open in 2019.

One building, estimated to cost $148.54 million, will house both middle and high schools on the Fairview campus on Tony Marchio Drive. Opening in 2020, the middle school will have 43 classrooms and the high school 83 classrooms.

As for student capacity, the elementary school will have a maximum of 840 students, the middle school, 1,000 students and the high school, 1,600 students

The drawings shown at the board meeting are still at developing levels and there will be changes before the final complete versions are approved by the board and ready for public bid, Hersey said.

The school board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m., Aug. 8, in the board room of the Marion E. Proffitt Training Center, Odessa.