Voters approve Appoquinimink tax hike

Superintendent Matt Burrows talks to district representatives after the Appoquinimink School District’s operating and capital referendum votes successfully passed. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

ODESSA — Appoquinimink School District’s footprint will expand, after voters approved a tax increase to support the development of two new buildings Tuesday.

The referendum combined operating and major capital requests. The average taxpayer in the district will see an increase of about $253 annually.

Per the unofficial results Tuesday, voters approved the operating referendum 4,728 to 3,152. The capital referendum passed at 4,860 to 3,001. And the additional capital funds passed 4,457 to 2,829.

Despite the dreary weather, representatives from across the district came together after the polls closed in Odessa to wait for the results. As they waited, volunteers at each polling place called in totals.

When the votes were tallied, Board President Richard Forsten thanked the volunteers who helped spread the word in the community.

“It is obviously important to all of us here, and I think this is a great result for our school district,” he said.

He noted that there were a number of people who voted against the referendum, too.

“They’re still part of our district … We’re going to try to address their concerns too,” he said. “A referendum is a lot of work. I don’t have to tell any of you that, but it’s good because I think it brings us together.”

Voters approved three requests from the district, which address expansion, building and grounds maintenance and operating expenses.

“When I talk about Appo, I talk about community and it takes a community to have great school system; you also have to have a great school system to have a great community,” Superintendent Matt Burrows said. “And I know it was a lot of work on a lot of different people’s parts. I said throughout the campaign that each of us has to do our part in order for this to be successful. And each of us did our part.”

With the $58 million in funding for capital projects, Appoquinimink will purchase a 142-acre plot of land across from the Summit Airport in Middletown to build a new elementary school and begin a future K-12 campus. The elementary school, with an anticipated fall 2023 completion date, will hold 840 students.

In a “land swap” with the town of Middletown, the district will construct an early education center next to Brick Mill Elementary School. The early education center would house 330 students with a projected opening of fall 2021.

The district also secured an additional $16 million to replace Middletown High School’s roof and HVAC system, as well as replace turf fields. These projects are not supported by the state — like the new buildings are — and will be locally funded only.

Increasing population size doesn’t necessitate only buildings, however.

As part of the district’s ask, the largest portion of the tax increase will go to operating costs. The money raised through referendum will be put toward staff recruitment and retention, safety and security, replacement of instructional technology and enrollment growth. This will allow for Appoquinimink to offer competitive wages, add one state of Delaware Constable to each campus and update aged technology.

“From my point of view, we had a lot of people dedicate a lot of volunteer hours to getting the word out, and doing a lot of legwork, visiting businesses, giving talks to community organizations, just trying their best to get the facts out there so people can make an informed decision,” said Jason Wall, a referendum co-chair.

Cyndi Clay, referendum co-chair, agreed.

“Our job now, as a district is to continue to communicate to the community the progress of projects and promises that were made in this referendum, to be transparent. I hope that people will come to board meetings and become informed and stay informed,” she said.

The district’s last successful referendum was in 2016, where voters approved a tax hike that supported building three new schools and renovating two existing properties. Voters also approved supporting operating expenses.

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