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Cape board debates referendum reform bill

Proposed law would allow districts to raise some taxes without referendum
April 23, 2019

Cape school board members discussed possible referendum reform legislation April 11 that would enable school districts to raise taxes to pay operating expenses without going to referendum.

Cape Superintendent Bob Fulton said the Delaware School Boards Association is seeking input from all school district boards on proposed draft legislation that could be used as a last resort if a district faces a tough financial issue.

“If it passed, it doesn’t mean districts have to use it,” Fulton said. “I think if you have a supportive community, you ask them if they want taxes raised. We’re fortunate we have that support; it makes more sense to ask them.”

Fulton said the legislation could help districts that have failed in passing referendums, and that limits would be set on the tax amount districts could raise. He said the legislation would apply for current operating expenses only; new schools would still be approved through referendum.

School board member Andy Lewis voiced his opposition to the proposed legislation.

“This is absolutely wrong,” Lewis said. “It’s transferring the responsibility from paid elected people to volunteer elected people. People will run on platforms that won’t raise taxes rather than what is best for the kids. A lot of people don’t want us to raise taxes; that’s why we have referendums. Putting that back on us is an undue burden on us and our kids.”

Board member Jessica Tyndall said she would be uncomfortable raising taxes without the transparency of an open, public referendum.

“It gnaws at me that people running for school board might not have kids’ best interests at heart,” she said. “I do not want to be in charge of raising people’s taxes.”

Board President Alison Myers said the board will possibly vote on its decision at the next meeting. The board will hold a workshop meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday, May 9, and a regular meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday, May 23; both meetings will be at H.O. Brittingham Elementary.