Residents approve CR referendum to raise taxes

WYOMING — The room was quiet, while Caesar Rodney School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald read the results of a referendum that will increase taxes for district residents to help make improvements to existing schools, build a new elementary school and help with operating costs..

The Caesar Rodney School District office on Front Street was filled with district employees, as they awaited the results, announced shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, Caesar Rodney School District superintendent, and those gathered at the district office celebrated the referendum’s passage with cake Saturday night. (Delaware State News/Arshon Howard)

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, Caesar Rodney School District superintendent, and those gathered at the district office celebrated the referendum’s passage with cake Saturday night. (Delaware State News/Arshon Howard)

As soon as Dr. Fitzgerald announced the referendum passed with 62.3 percent of those voting in favor of the tax increase the room exploded with celebration.

“It’s a tremendous feeling,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “I’m proud of everyone that has worked to get this referendum passed.

“The school district was founded 100 years ago when the town of Camden and Wyoming passed a referendum to build a school and 100 years later our community has come together to do the same thing,” he said.

The polls were open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at Allen Frear Elementary, Fred Fifer III Middle, J.R. McIlvaine Early Childhood Center, W.B. Simpson Elementary and George Welch Elementary.

The Department of Elections supervised the vote: 1,935 residents voted for the referendum, while 1,171 voted against it. The increase will raise $27.8 million for the district and, once paired with state funding, ultimately will give the district $86.9 million over the next five years.

Camden resident Gary Gray said he hates to see taxes increase, but if that’s what it takes to better the education of students moving forward he’s all for it.

“It’s all about the students,” Mr. Gray said. “Their education comes first, so anything it takes to help benefit them I’m fine with.”

Due to the reduced operating budget, the district has had to cut 19 staff positions, 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.

Camden resident Linda Burdick said the best education has to be funded.

“I’m a teacher in the Lake Forest District and I know for a fact they have Caesar Rodney teachers walking around with carts without classrooms, books and proper educational materials,” Ms. Burdick said. “You just can’t teach like that.”

She said it makes for a disoriented education for students.

Once voting on the referendum ended at 8 p.m. Saturday, folks gathered at the Caesar Rodney School District office in Wyoming to wait for results from the state Department of Elections. (Delaware State News/Arshon Howard)

Once voting on the referendum ended at 8 p.m. Saturday, folks gathered at the Caesar Rodney School District office in Wyoming to wait for results from the state Department of Elections. (Delaware State News/Arshon Howard)

“Students can’t learn that way,” Ms. Burdick said. “When teachers don’t have the materials or space that they need, especially when it’s 35 students in classroom, it’s very distracting.

“It’s a great district and I want to see them succeed.”

Camden residents Michael and Julie Nies agreed.

“We support the referendum because we have three small children that are going to be in the district within the next few years,” Mrs. Nies said.

“We think it’s important to help the school anyway we can,so educationally they can be the best that they can be to provide for our kids.”

The current fiscal year school tax rate for CR residents is $1.235 per $100 of property tax.
For a home assessed at $48,000 ($200,000 market value), the taxpayer’s increase will amount to $273 per year.

The 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.

There were two components to the referendum — an increase of 41 cents for operating needs and 16 cents for debt service related to new capital projects.

Of Delaware’s 16 school districts, Caesar Rodney currently is last in the per pupil tax rate at $604 per student (the highest rate is Cape Henlopen at $3,734). CR has the seventh largest enrollment with 7,678 students.

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.

Mr. Nies said he was in favor of the referendum, due to the district’s growing population.

“The area is growing,” Mr. Nies said. “We need bigger schools and more classrooms. We’re all for expanding and more infrastructure to help benefit the students.”

Now that the referendum has passed Dr. Fitzgerald said the district has many plans moving forward.

“We’re going to be able to build a new elementary school,” he said. “We’re going to be able to renovate our high school and keep programs going that have proven to work for our students.”

He said the process will begin soon.

“It’s a process,” Dr Fitzgerald said. “Once we’re funded in the state we’ll be able to move forward.

“We’re in the planning stages right now and then in July we hope it will be in the bond bill, which will help us get the construction process started.”

“It’s a really exciting time for the district.”

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