Questions about Milford’s Failed Referendums

Alright so it’s been some time since I’ve sat down to write and propose a question that has been on my mind since last year. For those who don’t remember I spent 10 years on the Milford Board of Education and I continue to follow all things educational in Delaware and particularly in the Milford School District. I have waited for the dust to settle, but I’m sure I will ruffle a few feathers and upset a few folks as I’m about to discuss the last two failed referendum in Milford. First, let me state for the record I support our children and the top notch education they deserve, but I voted against these referendum as I felt the district mislead the community and was not completely truthful about the history.

As I said I was on the board from 2002 to 2012, which meant I was there with the last superintendent who passed a referendum and technically started the district down the road it now follows. Back when that superintendent sought to “sell” the tax increases he needed to build the Central Academy and Mispillion Elementary it was stated in the media that the Academy was a Replacement for the old Middle School. Even back then it was realized that the Middle School was not going to last long, and the discussions centered on closing it after the Academy was built. As the district had out grown its central office, and sections of the Middle School were already being used for District offices it was discussed how to keep the front Historic section of the school and turn it into the new Central offices then tearing off the worst back half of the building. Then since the District owned the property where the offices are currently they would be sold off and the funds used for the district to use in the new offices. The property where the Middle School is was still large enough the district could still place another 5-6th building on it in the future if growth required it. When I left the board in 2012 these were some of the last discussions I had with fellow board members, and also the possibility of having to build another Middle School on the current property which I was ok with it if circumstances warranted it.

Now jump forward to end of 2013 to early 2014 and discussions from the district are that it has grown to the point a new school needs to be built to help with over-crowding. I pulled the board meeting minutes and news articles (https://milfordlive.com/2013/12/17/middle-school-referendum-moves-forward/) that clearly point to the state agreeing to support the districts choice to replace the aging Middle School with a new 1200 student school plus an operations increase. The referendum would be for ~$16,000,000.00 on the local portion ($12,000,000.00 for school and $3-4,000,000.00 operations), but because no everyone in the district worked to sell the idea it failed in March 2014. So after this effort failed how did we move from a 1200 student Middle School that the State said would fit on the property that the district owned, to a 1400 student High School that the district KNEW would not fit, to going out for a referendum requiring the purchase of new land, and leaving a boarded up eye sore where a school once stood. How did the powers that be in the district today think that asking for ~$25,000,000.00 was going to be any easier to sell to the folks in Milford than ~$16,000,000.00 was back in March 2014?

The current financial health of the state and in particularly education is questionable throughout the state as we continue to see Delaware’s citizens struggle to make ends meet, and with 50-60% of the students in districts relying on state/federal assistance how can their parents be asked to pay higher taxes? The next group you could not “sell” with this last referendum was those folks who have come to retire here in Delaware (http://delawarebusinessdaily.com/2015/06/delaware-tops-list-in-places-to-retire-ranking-from-kiplingers/) with its low tax rates, and protections for pensions. Finally, those like myself who feel education is not about the buildings, and that until they find a way to increase the tax base in the state so we can spread the cost out; all the districts will continue to struggle to meet the needs of our next generation.  As the Milford District will need to go out again for a referendum to at least meet their operational needs I have one comment to those charged with oversight of the District, “Ask for what you need and not what you want!”

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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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