Milford School District referendum fails: Former City Councilman leads charge against effort

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Milford School Board officials await the results of the May 5 referendum, unfortunately for them they didn’t get the outcome they were hoping for. (The Chronicle/Logan B. Anderson)

MILFORD – Unofficial results from today’s Milford School District Referendum show that the effort failed.

Of the 3,834 voters that went to polls on May 5, only 1,760 voted for the measure. With 2,074 voting against.

The school district asked voters to issue bonds to be paid for by increased taxes to fund its operating budget and to build a new Milford High School.

The disappointment by members of the school board and district administration could be felt when the numbers were read.

“I don’t know what we are going to do honestly. We are out of money. We are going to have to come back right away for operations that is without a doubt,” said Milford School District Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Kohel.

“I just do not understand this community. I really do not,” School Board President Marvin Schelhouse expressed Tuesday night. “We are not going to give up. We are coming back. We will work harder next time.”

The district has to wait six months before it can go back out for another referendum. Dr. Kohel said the district doesn’t have any choice. Students and staff will start to feel the costs of the referendum’s failure soon, but if the community doesn’t support the district’s next plea it could mean dire consequences.

“If we don’t do something, next year will be our last year of operation before the state of Delaware will come in and take over the school much like they did Laurel a year or two ago. There is no question that we have to come back,” Dr. Kohel said.

This is the second year in a row that the community has voted down a construction loan.

“We have mods sitting all over the place. We have to address overcrowding somehow. Without the operations piece we can’t afford to bring in mods,” Dr. Kohel said.

The election department will review the polling machines and certify the numbers in about 24 hours.

After the last year’s referendum failed, a group of parents and citizens came together to try and get this referendum approved by voters. They worked with school district officials and called themselves Buccaneer Tomorrow.

In the month’s leading up to Tuesday’s referendum, the group held many town hall meetings with Milford city and school leaders to try and educate voters why they should vote yes.

In the weeks and days leading up to the May 5 vote, Buccaneer Tomorrow hit the streets and posted signs, hung banners and tied balloons all over the school district to help persuade voters to vote for the measures.

Just days before voters went to the polls, opposing signs started to spring up throughout the area. The opposing signs had a similar color scheme as the Buccaneer Tomorrow group’s notices, but a very different message. The signs read, “Vote no to wasteful spending May 5th.”

The only other thing written on the signs was, “Paid for by Councilman Gleysteen and friends.”

gleysteenFormer Milford City Councilman Dirk Gleysteen publically came out against the effort with a letter to the editor. In it he said that he was for education but against the referendum. He urged the school district leaders to, “go back to the drawing board” and focus on education.

District leaders have said repeatedly in the last two years that they have made deep cuts and many changes, but now that the 2015 referendum failed they don’t have the funds to purchase a drawing board to go back to.

In his letter to the editor, published in the April 29 edition of the Milford Chronicle, he said the district closed the former middle school building on its own to “make an overcrowding issue.”

The Buccaneer Tomorrow frequently explained why the former middle can’t be reused on multiple occasions, including a session with the Milford city council, “the State Department of Education uses a Facility Condition Index (FCI) which is a formula driven indicator to qualify a building for state assisted funding. A building must achieve a score of .5 or lower on the FCI scale, and the Old Middle School site scored .78. This is well above the needed score to get state funding, and therefore would require the district to be responsible for any and all efforts to restore the building. Even though it does not qualify for state funding, the building would still have to adhere to state standards for instructional use, and most recent estimates to restore the building for modern instructional use hover at about $35 million dollars, or roughly one and a half times the tax burden proposed by the current referendum.”

As of May 4, Mr. Gleysteen is no longer on the city council as he decided not to seek re-election and a new Second Ward Councilman was sworn in.

The district will have to wait six months to go back out for an emergency operations referendum. Now that the effort failed, the district may levy a technology match tax and a capitation tax, which is hasn’t done for more than a decade, so those that voted against the referendum effort may still feel a pinch in their wallets.

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

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