CR officials see ‘sincere need’ for referendum

 

WYOMING — On the same day Caesar Rodney students, alumni and employees will celebrate the district’s centennial at Rider Pride Day, Oct. 17, district residents will be faced with a serious question at the polls — to vote yes or no for a referendum to raise their tax rate.

Taxes for operations and capital projects, if approved, will increase the district’s rate by 57 cents per $100 of assessed value over a five-year period.

For a home assessed at $48,000, for example, the taxpayer’s increase would amount to $273 per year.

“We believe there is a sincere need and we hope our community recognizes that and supports us,” Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said.

In August, the CR school board voted unanimously to hold a referendum to address the current problems the school is facing, most notably overcrowding, non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and aging infrastructure.

Scott Wilson, a CR board member since 2013, called the referendum necessary tax hike.

“We’re in a situation where we have 16 teachers without classrooms, and a student body that’s one of the largest of the public districts in the state and it’s only going to keep growing,” he said. “It’s been a long time since the last increase and I wouldn’t have voted in favor of holding a referendum if I didn’t think it was necessary.”

Mr. Wilson added the high school’s freshman class has about 500 students and the addition of a freshman academy greatly would relieve the overcrowding in the current building.

The freshman academy would be a detached facility on the high school grounds housing freshman-only academics. The high school is running with about 200 more students than it was planned to accommodate.

W. Reily Brown Elementary on Webbs Lane is the only school in the district not running at or over capacity.

The last CR referendum that passed was in 2002 and the district has grown by more than 1,300 students and 170 teachers in the same time frame. Three failed referendums have been held since ­— in December 2005, March 2006 and May 2007.

In addition to failed referendums, CR has been receiving about $1.2 million less from the state in funding each year since 2008.

“$1.2 million is a lot to do without if you’re used to having that much money, so you have to do something,” said Dr. Ada Puzzo, the CR district director of business and finance.

Due to the reduced operating budget, the district has had to cut 19 staff including math, reading and technology teachers; reduce summer school opportunities and after-school help; and freeze building and operational budgets since 2008; and pursue alternative funding options like grants and improved energy efficiency.

The district has seen the budgetary crisis headed its way for several years and in May 2014, the Caesar Rodney school board voted to request a certificate of necessity from the Delaware Department of Education — the first step to begin construction.

A certificate of necessity certifies that a construction project is crucial and authorizes a district to hold a referendum to address its needs. The document also sets up the scope and cost limits for that project.

The certificate of necessity CR currently holds expires Oct. 30.

Where CR ranks

Of Delaware’s 16 school districts, CR is last in the per pupil tax rate at $604 per student (the highest rate is Cape Henlopen at $3,734) despite having the seventh largest enrollment numbers at 7,678.

If the referendum passes, CR will pass both Laurel and Delmar after the first year, collecting $974 per student and after the fifth year, CR will be ahead of Laurel, Delmar and Woodbridge, collecting $1,063.

These rates would go up through increased tax rates spread over a course of five years. At the end of the fifth year, taxpayers in the Caesar Rodney School District will see a total increase of $0.57 per every $100 of property tax.

The current fiscal year school tax rate for CR residents is $1.2350 per $100 of property tax.

Property taxes are based on a property’s assessed value which is determined through the county based on the last property assessment. In Kent County the last assessment was 1986.

If the referendum is passed, tax rates will increase beginning in the next fiscal year which starts July 1, 2016.

According to the Kent County Department of Finance, the first bills including the increased taxes would be mailed in August and due at the end of September.

When the August 2021 taxes are mailed out, CR residents will pay the highest school tax rate influenced by the referendum. But after 2021, school taxes will drop.

Through the increased tax rates, the district would collect an estimated $27.8 million for capital improvements over the next five years. With financial assistance from the state in the form of $59.2 million, the district hopes to raise a total of $86.9 million over the next five years — the cost and scope were determined in the certificate of necessity. That’s one-third from the district and two-thirds from the state for capital improvements.

Consequences

“If the referendum does not pass, the CRSD administration and school board has some very difficult decisions to make,” said Jessica Marelli, a school board member since 2014. “Most likely, we will immediately plan to decrease our programing and begin cutting positions across the district. Ultimately, our students and our community will feel the effects of these cuts.”

Dr. Puzzo said future budgetary problems that could make the district’s financial situation even worse are increasing health care costs, unfunded state and/or federal mandates, reductions in state funding and an unfreezing of the equalization formula which alone would lead to a total loss of $4.5 million.

More information about the referendum can be found online at crk12.org/referendum.

CR referendum Q&A

Polling

Polls for the Caesar Rodney referendum will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 17.
Eligible voters must be United States citizens, 18 years old and live within the Caesar Rodney School District. Proof of identity and residence is required.
Polling locations:
•Allen Frear Elementary, 238 Sorghum Mill Road, Camden;
•Fred Fifer III Middle, 109 E. Camden-Wyoming Ave., Camden;
•J.R. McIlvaine Early Childhood Center, 11 E. Walnut St., Magnolia;
•W.B. Simpson Elementary, 5 Old North Road, Camden;
•George Welch Elementary, 100 Hawthorne Drive, Dover.

Questions and answers

Q: What are district voters being asked to approve?
A: Voters will be asked to approve a tax increase of 57 cents per $100 of assessed property value over the course of five years.
There are two components included — an increase of 41 cents for operating needs and 16 cents for debt service related to new capital projects.
The ballot does not show the breakdown for the debt service increases based on approval of the issuance of bonds in the amount of $27.8 million, but does list the five-year increments for current expenses.
The current expense increases are 33 cents in the first year, and an additional 2 cents for the next four years.
The debt service increase would start in two years with a 6 cents increase, followed by increases of 4 cents, 3 cents and 3 cents.
The first year of the increase would be in the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2016.

Q: What is the current school property tax rate for Caesar Rodney district residents?
A: $1.2350 per $100 of assessed property value.

Q: How does that compare to other Kent school districts?
A: • Capital, $1.8115
• Lake Forest, $1.4498
• Milford, $1.2626
• Smyrna, $1.7835
• Woodbridge, $1.3310

Q. Where can a property owner find the assessed value of a home?
A. Under Services, click on the link to Property Information on the Kent County website: www.co.kent.de.us/

Q: How do I determine the amount of the increase?
A: Find your home’s assessed property value, then divide it by 100. Multiply that number by the tax increase.
For example, a home assessed at $48,000 would see an annual increase of $273 once the full 57-cent increase is in place.

Q: What is the difference between property assessment and actual value?
A: Actual value (or sales value) is the amount a property owner would pay when purchasing a house which fluctuates as market values fluctuate. Counties determine the assessed value which is the value that taxes are applied to. The last time properties were reassessed in Kent County was 1986.

Q. Can seniors get a break on school property taxes?
A. Seniors must complete an application for the credit and submit it to the county.

Q: Some of the referendum money will go toward current expenses. What do these operating costs include?
A: According to Dr. Fitzgerald, every student in the district will be impacted with funding that will:
•Support student safety initiatives.
•Maintain elementary and middle school immersion programs.
•Save the Success Academy and maintain the Ninth Grade Academy.
•Maintain student programs and services that have been impacted by the loss of state and federal funds.
•Provide students with up-to-date technology and greater STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities.
•Maintain band, arts, chorus, music, performing arts programs.
•Maintain high school athletic programs and save middle school athletic programs.
•Support curriculum and professional development.
•Support any and all increased costs related to school operations.

Q: What are the CR capital needs?
A: The district’s referendum information said there will be $86.9 million in construction and projects. Of that figure, $27.8 million would come from the district and $59.1 million from the state.
The district outlined the following:
•Caesar Rodney High School — security upgrades, construction of a freshman academy on current high school land, connect C and D wings (approximately 10 classrooms), major heating and air conditioning upgrades, replace the exterior metal panels, new roof, energy efficient lighting, interior finishes, upgrade outdoor athletic facilities, meet ADA standards
•McIlvaine Early Childhood Center — security upgrades, four classroom additions (which will complete the school), energy efficient lighting
•New elementary school — constructed on land the district currently owns on Briarbush and Banning roads to meet the growing needs of the district
•Postlethwait Middle School — security upgrades, heating and air conditioning upgrades, new roof, energy efficient lighting, interior finishes, meet ADA standards
•Fifer Middle School — security upgrades, heating and air conditioning upgrades, new roof, energy efficient lighting, interior finishes, meet ADA standards
•Stokes Elementary School — security upgrades, heating and air conditioning upgrades, sprinkler upgrades, energy efficient lighting, interior finishes, meet ADA standards
•Star Hill Elementary School — security upgrades, heating and air conditioning upgrades, energy efficient lighting, interior finishes, meet ADA standards
•Simpson Elementary School — security upgrades, energy efficient lighting
•Brown Elementary School — security upgrades, energy efficient lighting
•Frear Elementary School — security upgrades, energy efficient lighting

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.