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One referendum passes in Red Clay, while another fails in Christina

Voters in the Red Clay School District approved an operating budget referendum while residents in the Christina School District said “no” to a pair of proposed tax hike options to bolster the bottom line there.

Red Clay’s referendum passed by a nearly 900-vote margin, 6,395 to 5,515. It will raise taxes 35 cents per $100 of assessed property value over three years to cover increased operating expenses and provide for improvements in technology, curriculum and student services.

The cost to the average homeowner in Red Clay once it’s fully phased in: an additional 280 dollars per year.

"I think we've proven to be transparent with our funding and our budgets," said Red Clay Superintendent Merv Daughtery. "I think [this vote] is a verification of what we're trying to do in the classroom and the community and parents really want to support us in future endeavors."

Daughtery adds that he’s pleased issues like Priority Schools and Gov. Markell’s proposed cut to a property tax subsidy for seniors apparently did not erode support for the referendum.

"There was a lot of noise around the referendum that didn’t really didn’t pertain to the referendum," said Daughtery. "What we tried to do was keep everybody focused on the benefit this referendum would have on the students and the schools. And I think we were able to get the message out and keep everyone focused."

Christina voters had two plans to choose from - and soundly rejected both of them.

The first, a “keep the lights on” proposal which would have filled an anticipated $9 million dollar budget gap with a tax increase of 65 cents per $100 of assessed property value phased in over three years, was defeated by almost 4 thousand votes - with 2,119 for and 6,076 against.

The second option – which would have cost homeowners an additional 40 cents spread over four years to phase in improvements in areas including technology, arts and early childhood learning – lost by a 45 hundred vote margin with 1,826 for and 6,348 against.

"We have to listen very carefully to what our community has stated to us," said Christina superintendent Freeman Williams. "I think they clearly reinforced to us that the request was not acceptable to them."

Williams says the district will try again this spring.

"What I think we have to do is regroup, refine our effort, and do it in a very cooperative, open approach," said Williams. "Because I think at the end of the day we all care about our community. We all care about our students. And we’re going to work in a cooperative way to come up with a successful strategy that supports our students."

Freeman was not prepared to say what that revised referendum might look like or what cuts, if any, will be needed to make it work.

He added he sees the vote solely as a reflection of residents’ opinion of the proposals offered and would not assign blame to other issues, like the ongoing Priority Schools debate, for the referendum's defeat.