Schools brace for budget outcome

DOVER — As Republican and Democratic lawmakers exchange barbs in Legislative Hall about whose fault the current budgetary predicament is, schools are bracing for the eventual decision on a $37 million decrease in education funding.

Caesar Rodney School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald said district officials there have been making plans for a presentation to the school board once the new budget is set.

“While we had certainly hoped that the cuts facing education would not be as drastic, we have explored numerous options that we will present to the school board once the budget is set,” he said. “We are committed to doing everything within our power to minimize the impact of these cuts on the classroom and our students.”

Part of the education cut, proposed by the state’s Joint Finance Committee Wednesday to balance the budget, could be made up by allowing school districts to raise property taxes without referendums.

In Kent County, the estimated cost per month for a homeowner would vary from $2.40 to $8.36 depending on the district, while it would be between $2.08 and $10.14 in Sussex County. Each school district would have until July 10 to pass these tax increases.

The necessity of doing this would have to be individually assessed by each district — Patrik Williams, who officially steps up to replace Deborah Wicks as Smyrna School District’s superintendent on July 1 said all districts are “watching and waiting.”

“Once the budget is approved, we will meet with our local board and our finance director, review our contingency plans and make educated decisions moving forward,” he said.

In an interview in May, shortly after being selected as the new superintendent, Mr. Williams said the district was well placed to absorb cuts.

“When you look at the governor’s proposed budget, there’s $15 million in cuts required and a potential $22 million cut from the Education Sustainment Fund,” Mr. Williams said. “The whole state is struggling with the financial picture and how that may affect our programming.

“It’s going to be a challenge but I will say that we are one of the few districts that are preserving all of our permanent staff. We’re conservative financially and that has put us in a really good spot. We are well prepared to make adjustments.”

Delaware State Education Association spokesman David Wright said that the association’s leadership feels that lawmakers are battling on partisan lines and should adopt a more equitable split of cuts and revenue increases.

“The proposed budget harms those who can least afford it the most — including students,” he said. “The DSEA continues to believe that the General Assembly needs to follow the path laid out by Gov. Carney, a budget built upon equal portions of revenue and cuts. We simply do not understand why the legislators won’t put aside partisan differences and do what is right for the citizens who elected them.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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