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Bill allowing school boards to raise taxes stalls in committee

Delaware Public Media

Legislation allowing school districts to raise taxes without seeking voters’ approval stalled in a House committee this week.

State Rep. Earl Jaques  (D-Newark) vowed to hold his bill on school tax referendums until January if the House Education Committee voted to release it.

But it couldn’t garner enough support from the 19 members of the committee. Jaques said he will continue to meet with stakeholders over the next six months to try to find common ground.

Opponents of the bill say it’s taxation without representation. But Kristin Dwyer with Delaware State Education Association disagrees.

“It’s our belief at DSEA that school board members need to stand up, use the tools that are given to them effectively," she said. "It is not taxation without representation. You go and you elect those folks.”

State Rep. Ruth Briggs King's (R-Georgwtown) includes the Indian River school district, where two referendum attempts failed this year. But she opposes the bill.

“I’ve also received a huge amount of comments asking me to not support this," she said. "And I rather take the difficult task of laying it back at our feet to address this issue.”

State lawmakers agree schools need a long-term and reliable source of revenue. Dwyer said property tax revenue is a reliable source if properties are regularly assessed. But property values haven’t been reassessed by counties in more than 20 years.

State lawmakers have not forced counties to reassess. But a judge hearing an education funding lawsuit filed against the Carney administration could order new assessments.

Jaques’ bill would cap tax increases school boards could authorize for operating costs to two percent of the current rate or the consumer price index - whichever is higher. He is amending the bill to make it the lower of the two.

An amendment would also allow school boards to approve a one-time rate increase, but spending growth is capped.

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