Updates in Education for Milford

Well as I mentioned in my last post things have been a bit crazy as I’ve been attending meetings up and down Kent and Sussex County with most focusing on finances. Starting back on March 10th, I attended the DSBA board meeting and dinner with the State Board of Education. Secretary Lowery and Mr. Mike Jackson presented information on RTTT status and the Governors proposed budget for 2011. I have attached to this piece a set of slides budget1that Mr. Jackson presented on the Governors numbers, and I will try to summarize them. First, as we have all heard up and down the state the revenue forecast has fallen almost $136.4 million since 2009. Course you can pull up history back when our previous Governor took office and our present became treasurer to see the states cash reserves starting to take a tumble! Opinion is that as the size of our state government grew the state pockets began to empty, and on the slide marked ongoing revenue vs. services our previous administration knew when to bail out!
Looking at where the state is hanging its hopes for increased revenue to balance the budget is outlined on the slide number 5. What is really scary though is holding out that $40.5 million will be gained from table games; $24.0 million for abandon properties; and $14.0 million in realty transfer taxes. All of these are unsustainable in an economy that is seeing growth in unemployment, and decreases in personal incomes! With the current size of the states payroll the “door openers” account for ~$137.8 million, which if my math is correct is pretty close to what the revenue shortfall is this year. Bottom line, with Education being ~1/3 of the states budget it’s not hard to see state government looking at it for cuts.
In 2009, the states Education budget was ~$1.15 billion with 100% coming out the general fund, but as was mentioned 2008-2009 saw a drop in revenue. The state threatened to cut Education almost 8% for the 2010 budget, but the Stimulus bill backfilled the shortfalls even as the states portion dropped to ~$ 1.1 billion. The problem now though in 2011 is that the Stimulus dollars are drying up and Education will see a decrease of from $51.4 million to $30.7 million in operating budget dollars which the state still can not offset. Because of this Education staff will still see no salary increase, and the 5 days of leave will continue for 2011, but this is not enough and other cuts are needed. Currently, on slide #9 of the presentation you can see those cuts the Governor is proposing for Education. The costliest of these to local school districts will be the 25% cut in transportation that will be pushed back on local taxpayers, and I will expound on this shortly.
Following Mr. Jackson’s less then rosy picture of the State’s budget and outlook for 2011, Secretary Lowery gave a brief overview of where the state’s RTTT application stood. On March 15th, the Governor, Secretary of Ed, DSEA rep., Superintendent Rep., and Philanthropic community were to present to the US DOE in two 90 minute interviews the states application. The results will be announced as to the “winners” of the grant money on March 29th with the “winners” splitting ~ $4 billion. We all know the state could use this money, but like most I and most other board members are afraid of what type of strings will come with it, and the number of un-funded mandates with NCLB have left a sour taste for many in Education! The evening wrapped up after some brief questions were asked, but there were many more the secretary did not answer due to time. I will be attaching to this post a complete list of questions Secretary Lowery answered and forwarded to the board members. questionsED<
The next part of my busy couple of weeks was our March 22nd board meeting which ran from 6pm to 10pm, and although I did have some fun giving recognition to our students and staff we did have some business to carry out. The board approved the MEA contract agreement which gave a 3% one-time payment for 2010 and a 2% salary increase for all employees in 2011. The district may not be in the best of shape financially, but like many other districts in Kent & Sussex County it has to do what it can to keep its staff happy. Other business that night was the addition of 1 day to the calendar for a snow makeup day, and approval of several 1st read board policies. Lastly, I presented the board with a piece of information that was garnered from an NSBA newsletter. I will attach a copy of the part I found most disturbing as we look at the financial health of the state and district.budgaps
I’m beginning to get a little long winded so I will wrap up with my meeting on March 24th at Sussex Central HS with our legislators from Sussex County. The discussion was almost exclusively focused on the states proposed 2011 budget. I will be attaching a copy of a spreadsheet which shows how each district in the state will be affected by the Governors cuts to education particularly the 25% transportation shift to the districtsspreadsheet budget. The thing the legislators tried to point out to the educators present was that the bus contractors have already began making their case against the budget, but it seemed that the public did not know what was going on. Need for each district to pass along to their parent groups what the final cost will be for Education, and that any tax increases that the state is forcing on the districts will be without a referendum! In Milford alone the increases to property taxes amount to ~$42.00 per $200k of assessed value. The other that issue still facing our district that has been discussed with legislators and county folks is the assessment concern as it affects equalization. A dirty word, re-assessment, continues to keep poorer districts like, Milford, Laurel, Woodbridge, and Delmar from getting its share of the dollars that their students deserve. Anytime I see districts spend twice the amount of another district per classroom I ask how the education can be equal. The formula for equalization needs to updated, but that requires re-assessments which no politician looking to remain in office wants to talk about. Just so folks understand even if a re-assessment was to occur the taxes adjusted do not automatically go to the education fund because of the following law:
§ 1914. Levy of annual school tax without election.
The school board of any district, which has for 1 year levied a local tax under this chapter, may continue annually, without a further election or referendum, to levy such local tax not exceeding in amount the tax originally authorized by an election if said original authorization was on the basis of an amount of tax, or not to exceed the rate of tax originally authorized by an election if said original authorization was on the rate of taxation, each together with an added 10 percent for delinquencies and costs of collection as provided in § 1913 of this title.
In layman’s terms a school district can not levy any more tax then what was previous granted to it by an approved referendum. So all those folks saying schools want the re-assessment for higher taxes need to understand it does not help schools directly, but those funds raised will put into the calculation to bring equalization into where it should be for the 20th century. The people of poorer rural districts should not have to be happy with their community schools doing more with less! Last comment goes out to our legislators and that is the district calendars show April 30 as the deadline for staff contracts for the following year, and therefore waiting until June 30th to balance the budgets does not get it done!

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About Gary M Wolfe

The Author spent 10 years as a member of the Milford Delaware Board Of Education, and is currently seeking the 18th Senatorial seat in the Delaware Legislature.
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