Sussex Tech set to cut 24 positions

Legislation to increase school taxes still has no sponsor
Sussex Tech officials say plans are underway to eliminate 24 positions in the district. SOURCE FILE
April 11, 2014

A bill designed to raise Sussex County property taxes to fund operating expenses at Sussex Tech still has no sponsor, so school officials are set to notify about two dozen employees that they could lose their jobs.

“The district will be moving forward with reduction in positions as contractually obligated by timelines,” said Superintendent Allen F. Lathbury Jr. “We attempt to give our employees advanced notice to best serve them as they may need to search for other employment …”

Lathbury said a secretary position and five teaching spots have been frozen and will not be filled for the 2014-15 school year. Reduction in Force recommendations to the school board are for six teachers, three teaching assistants, two administrators, a counselor, a nurse, a school psychologist and a public information officer. Contracts for two administrators will not be renewed, he said.

The board will finalize the reductions in May.

In March, Lathbury announced that the Sussex County Vo-Tech School District needed to raise about $4 million in taxes or the district would be forced to cut 24 jobs.

The increase calls for a vo-tech tax increase of $19 a year in 2015 for an average homeowner, plus an additional $5 more a year for the next five years. After the six-year period, an average taxpayer would pay about $42 more in school taxes, or a total vo-tech tax bill of $83 a year, more than doubling the current vocational tax paid by Sussex County property owners.

If the tax rate is approved by the legislature, Lathbury said, it will assure the 24 positions slated for cuts would be saved.

However, in order to raise Sussex County property taxes, the state legislature first must pass a bill that would allow the tax increase.

To date, no one has sponsored a bill. Rep. Darryl Scott of Dover, who is not seeking re-election, had indicated he might sponsor the bill, Lathbury said, but Scott has yet to file a bill.

Despite the threat of job losses, Speaker of the House Schwartzkopf and other Sussex County legislators said no one from the Sussex County delegation would sponsor the bill.

“There must be a bill to go to committee,” Lathbury said. “We can only hope.”

Following a Gazette news article in March, members of an independent committee who reviewed the financial details of the tax increase proposal stressed that they did not approve an increase. They simply reviewed the numbers and verified that the proposed increase would cover projected student enrollment growth, said Ann Visalli, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“We did not weigh in on the need,” she said.

Her deputy, Brian Maxwell, said Sussex Tech was “looking to ramp up their enrollment.”

Lathbury estimated Sussex Tech will enroll 60 to 100 more students next year. About half of the students who apply to Sussex Tech are accepted each year, he said.

“As enrollment and demand for services grow in Sussex County, our enrollment will probably grow,” Lathbury said. “It is not so much of us trying to increase enrollment as it is attempting to meet a reasonable amount of the overwhelming demand for services.”

Along with growth, will come more programs focused on training for high demand, high skill and high wage careers, Lathbury said.

These fields include surgical technologies, bio-technologies for food science, information technologies, and manufacturing and robotic technologies, he said.

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