Commentary: The endless cycle of school referendums

In the past few months we have seen a number of school districts seek new funds via a referendum. Two of the districts referendums were struck down.

The districts always tell us it’s all about the growth of the school-age population in their districts and they have to build, build and build again. Most of us know there are pockets of growth in Sussex County and in the Middletown area but if a government unit doesn’t know how to manage its population growth, especially since there is a wealth of information on the growth in population in any zip code, then these people are taxpayer brain dead.

It’s been 15 years since my wife and I escaped from the taxes of New Jersey to the comforting area of lower slower Delaware. There is not a year that goes by that we don’t toast the decision to move to this great state. We tell our friends that we live in the Mayberry (Milford) area.

Examining how school districts in Delaware, as in New Jersey and I am sure in many states faced with growing financial needs, use techniques that are common in any state. To begin, they weaponize the needs of the students using guilt, especially if we are parents or grandparents. They tell us if we don’t allow them to pick our pockets with a larger shovel, the children will suffer, and it will be our fault. The children will grow up intellectually deprived, and the school system will not be able to meet all the tremendous education standards the federal and state governments place on their shoulders. And oh yes, the band goes, and maybe all the sports activities.

What i have noticed over the decade-plus that I have lived here, school districts build schools. Then in five years or so, they realize the population is growing so they need to build another school, three miles down the street from the school they built five years ago. Apparently schools in Delaware are never built for growth. I am amazed that schools are not built with classroom wings. This design lets classrooms be added without building a whole new school. You say this is a foolish idea, I say tell us taxpayers why schools cannot be built that way.

The second thing i noticed in my years here in Delaware, not a single unit of government, state, county, city or school districts ever announced the creation of a cost analysis commission/committee to look at how they are spending our money. Sometimes, it takes a few years to look back on the creation of a department, program or service to see how well these have performed. Maybe they missed the mark and should be shut down and maybe the task they had in mind is not really necessary.

The truth is government cannot analyze itself:

1) No experience — Nobody in government in my lifetime has experience in shutting down a program, or a department. Government people only know how to add a program.

2) No incentive — Government people have no incentive to shut down or right-size a work unit or program, mainly because they have no skin in the game. It’s not their money.

3) No benefit — When governments grow, it’s organic. First it’s a small branch (bureau) then it grows (department) and it grows (division). So everyone in this food chain gets more important and more important. This means a new title and this, of course means higher salary, with two secretaries (Oops no more secretaries, it is now administrative staff). And naturally everyone twho is hired is now like family and really how can you dump a family member?

Let me focus on school systems. Years ago many districts got rid of their buses and subcontracted out the busing of children to and fro. So why do schools need to run their own cafeterias? Why do schools need to mow their own lawns? Think a government person mowing the lawn or washing the windows or taking out the trash at $20-plus an hour, plus benefits.

Ask your school districts why they haven’t analyzed their spending of tax dollars, and if there is no reasonable answer, no referendum should ever pass. No school board member should ever be re-elected. Throw them out if they have no interest in spending our money more efficiency.

Charles Garrod is a resident of Milford.

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