District begins talks with community: Match tax and another referendum attempt on the horizon

Incoming Milford School Board member Yvette Dennehy asked the community to come together for the sake of the district’s students.

Incoming Milford School Board member Yvette Dennehy asked the community to come together for the sake of the district’s students.

MILFORD – Emotions were high, tempers flared and accusations were thrown during a public workshop with Milford School District officials and the community, June 17.

The purpose of the workshop was to begin talks with the community about the potential of another referendum this fall and other new taxes voters won’t have a say in.

In May, the school board asked voters for permission to raise school taxes so the district could make up an operations budget shortfall and to build a new high school. The questions, were tied together in one vote. A majority of voters defeated the measure which forced the district to make some hard choices.

“We have been able to cut approximately $1.2 million out of our budget. We did that at the expense of some programs we hoped we wouldn’t have to cut,” said Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Kohel at the start of the workshop.

“It was a very uncomfortable thing to do,” she added.

Included in the cuts are a four-year freeze in teacher wages.

“None of our teachers will receive teacher raises through 2019, if we don’t get funding. That is already starting to have an effect on the district. We are losing good teachers to neighboring districts. We’ve lost two teachers to Cape. We’ve lost teachers to the Indian River School District. It is hard for us to compete,” Dr. Kohel said.

To make the district whole and support its programs, Dr. Kohel said she was going to recommend that the board go out for just an operating fund referendum for $3 million later this year.

She also told the crowd gathered in the school board chambers last week that the district was mulling over enacting a match tax on district residents.

The tax could raise close to $350,000 for the district and doesn’t require permission from voters.

Sara E. Croce, Milford School District chief financial officer, laid out the fiscal year 2016 outlook on June 17, which includes:

• Projected Budget Deficit of $507,543 without implementation of Match Taxes

• Projected Budget Deficit of $157,543 with implementation of Match Taxes

• Budget deficit will grow by $312,000 in Fiscal Year 2017 due to one-time revenue sources ($819,543 – no match taxes, $469,543 – with match tax revenue)

• Still in discussions with the City of Milford for School Resource Officer contract, which could result in a savings of $200,000

• State Revenue is uncertain at this time, which could result in further reductions to revenue

• The Milford School District has seen an increase in students who choose to leave Milford for other districts and charters, which have resulted in more than $215,000 in local funds transferred to those schools. Choice and charter school students also deprive the district of earned unit funding
The state has already started working with Delaware Department of Education officials on other cuts. If the financial outlook doesn’t improve, the state will take over the district and local control. Passage of the next referendum and levying the match tax would go a long way to stopping that from happening.

“We have a lot of work to do in the community before we go back out for any kind of a building,” Dr. Kohel said.

Judging by the some of the people at the meeting, the district has a lot of work to do.

Many people said there were trust issues between the school board and residents. Other seemed to still be upset about decisions made many, many years ago. One person even accused the school board of being guilty of some conspiracy to destroy the old Middle School building, which started while the building was still in use.

Incoming school board member, Yvette Dennehy, who help found the group Buccaneer Tomorrow, finally stood up and challenged everyone on both sides of the issue to be better.

Read Yvette Dennehy’s letter to Milford School District residents about the June 17 meeting: Here

“Emotions are very raw on both sides of this issue. Despite what the board did or did not do in the past or how transparent they were or mistakes that were made, the past is gone. We have 4,200 students today who need your support. Despite past mistakes,” she said.

Ms. Dennehy urged those in attendance to vote yes for the next referendum.

“If we don’t pass a referendum we are not doing a good service to the kids in this district and the community as a whole. We need to come together and look to the future,” she said.
The incoming school board member asked people to come together for the good of the community as a whole.

“Until we can bury the vindictiveness, the accusations and the mudslinging, we are stagnant. Our schools are going to remain stagnant. We are going to continue to lose the top 10 percent of students and teachers out of this district. Then you will see the effects trickle down into the community,” Ms. Dennehy said.

Managing Editor Logan B. Anderson can be reached at landerson@newszap.com. Follow @LoganBAnderson on Twitter.

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