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Lawmaker proposes requiring referendums to increase school funding tied to reassessment

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

A Republican lawmaker plans to file a bill this week requiring a referendum for any school funding increase tied to Delaware’s first property tax reassessments in decades.

All three counties agreed to reassess property values as part of last year’s settlement of an educational equity lawsuit filed by civil rights advocates.

Kent County’s most recent property tax reassessment was in 1987; New Castle County’s was in 1983; and Sussex County in 1974.

Under current state law, school districts can increase revenues from property taxes by up to 10% after a new reassessment. Most property tax revenues go to school districts.

Republican State Rep. Mike Smith argues that could give school boards an opportunity to effectively increase taxes on Delawareans without going through the standard referendum process. Smith’s bill would close what he considers a “loophole” in state law.

This bill would help make sure that the referendum process is not circumvented," he said, "and it would also give us a more holistic view of where money is being spent and how it is being spent.”

He adds it also would give Delawareans a chance to rethink how the state funds public education.

"You’d have to probably consolidate some school districts, you’d probably need to do a strategic plan on how many schools and what types of schools you need in different geographic areas," he said. "All of those would inform what the need would be for why we would need to give up to 10 percent.”

Smith plans to introduce his bill Thursday, just before lawmakers return from their Easter break.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.
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