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Second chance referendum garners approval from Colonial School District voters

Voters in Colonial School District gave their blessing to a tax referendum Tuesday in a vote that was a drastic turnaround from February’s failed first effort to raise taxes.

The ask was basically the same – a 38 cent tax increase for every $100 of assessed property value – but the result was vastly different.

Residents approved the proposal by a 1,892 vote margin.  In February, it failed by 894 votes. 

The margin of victory Tuesday nearly surpassed the number of "yes" votes, 2,067, in the February referendum loss

And the number of "yes" votes Tuesday, 5,742 was more than the total votes cast in the first try, 5,028.

The change comes after the district sent layoff notices to 175 employees, including 93 teachers,  and warned those cuts – and others to academic and sports programs – would become permanent if the referendum failed.  They also told voters class sizes would grow.

In a statement, District superintendent Dusty Blakey called the win "a victory for our students and dedicated staff.”  But he stopped short of saying all of the staff that received layoff notices would be asked back.

That’s because Colonial may not be fully out of the woods fiscally.  Like other districts across Delaware, they are waiting to see if state lawmakers approve Gov. John Carney proposal to cut $37 million in education spending in the coming year.

"Starting as soon as possible, we will begin the process of making certain our district is whole again. We know our teachers and support staff are the backbone of our district and now that the voters have spoken, we hope to recall most of the employees who received layoff notices,” Blakey said in his statement.

The tax will be phased in over two years and raise nearly $11 million for the district.  It will cost the average homeowner with a house assessed at 200,000 dollars about $32 more a month once it’s fully implemented.

And turnout was notably high for a school referendum. The state Department of Elections for New Castle County reports the 9,622 people who voted Tuesday is marks the highest turnout for a referendum since 1993 when over 12,000 people voted in a Colonial referendum.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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