Delaware Public Media

Christina School District tries again to garner referendum support

Mar 11, 2016

For the Christina School District, it’s one and done this year.

If residents don’t approve a proposed tax increase of 30 cents per $100 of assessed value in a March 23 referendum, district officials have vowed that they won’t try, try again later this spring.

That’s what happened last year, when voters rejected a pair of proposed tax hikes, leading to $9 million in budget cuts that resulting in laying off 78 teachers and 14 aides.

The increase requested this time would generate about $16.2 million in new revenue -- $5.5 million to restore staffing and other budget cuts, $4.8 million to cover payments for district residents who opt to attend public schools outside the district, $4.8 million for increased expenses in the next two years, $1 million to develop and begin implementing plans to improve school climate and discipline, and $100,000 to start planning a variety of new educational options for implementation two years from now.

The tax hike, if approved, would cost owners of an average home in the district – one with an assessed value of $64,100 – an additional $192.30 a year, or about $16 a month.

Robert Andrzejewski, Christina’s acting superintendent, says he is “encouraging the community to move forward.”

“You can’t change the past,” he says, referring to last year’s unsuccessful votes. “You can only learn from it and move forward.”

Once again, however, the district must work around a controversial side issue while urging residents to vote yes at the polls.

At this time last year, Christina was battling with state education officials over the state’s threat to take over “priority schools” in the Wilmington portion of the district, prompting some to wonder whether all of the tax increase would be spent to benefit Christina students. This year, the issue is a proposal that the State Board of Education must vote on by the end of the month that would move all Christina schools within Wilmington into the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

That change, should it be approved, would not take place until the 2018-19 school year, at the earliest, which is why the district is saying it is seeking only enough additional revenue to maintain a meaningful education program for the next two years.

“For at least the next two years, Wilmington students are part of Christina,” says Brian Stephan, a parent and co-chair of the district’s referendum steering committee. “As far was Wilmington is concerned, you’re with us and we’re with you.”

Andrzejewski, a former Red Clay superintendent who came to Christina last summer following the resignation of Freeman Williams, said he has been meeting with school and community groups regularly and has found a strong interest in improving school climate and discipline and in revamping curriculum offerings to make them more attractive to residents, especially those whose children are leaving at the start of their middle school and high school years.

“Some of what we do has to change,” he says, and he wants district residents to “help us decide” the paths to take, both in discipline and in school programming.

Andrzejewski is hoping his overriding message that “we’re going to move forward” will carry the day.

“I think we can pass this,” says Harrie Ellen Minehan, the school board president. “We only have to get one more vote than the other side.”

If not, Stephan warns, more budget cuts – to academics, athletics and after-school activities – will be necessary. And, he adds, “there’s not much more left to cut.”

For more information on the referendum, including polling places, go to http://csdpavingtheway.com/