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Sussex Tech Asks Lawmakers for Help

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - Sussex County state lawmakers are looking at a request from Sussex Tech High School with a skeptical eye. School leaders met with the county's delegation in Dover Tuesday.

Sussex Tech says it needs more money. In December the school said was projecting a $1.5-million budget gap for next year. That's the equivalent of almost 50 positions. To fix that, the school is asking for something lawmakers may not be keen on giving.

At Tuesday's meeting Sussex Tech leaders told lawmakers they want the ability to raise the local property tax rate by 27 cents over six years. By 2021 the rate could be double what it currently is.

Delaware's regular school districts use referendums to ask voters for more money. The state's vocational schools have to go to the legislature.

And Sussex County's state lawmakers - almost all Republicans - seemed generally wary of supporting a potential tax increase.

"We must be fiscally responsible. And that's part of my job - to watch out for that," said Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford.

Rep. Kenton says there are a number of issues with how he sees things operating at Sussex Tech.

"Why would you increase enrollment by 150 students when you know you've got a deficit?" Rep. Kenton said, as an example.

Tuesday's meeting was about sharing information and getting an overall sense of where the parties stand.

"They're making these claims," Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said. "We want to know why. What's your information? What's your data to back up what you're telling us?"

Pat Cooper, Sussex Tech Board President, understands convincing lawmakers to support the school's request could be tough.

"All I'm asking everybody to do is look at the information presented, look at it objectively," he said. "I'm confident once they look at it they'll agree that there's a need for Sussex Tech."

Sussex Tech cut 20 positions for this school year due to budget issues, in addition to other cuts made in recent years.

A resolution calling for a study group to examine the issues at Sussex Tech was introduced in the state House Tuesday.

It would thoroughly look at the school's financial situation and possible alternatives to a tax hike.

“The people running Sussex Tech are asking for a lot and expecting a lot,” said House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, one of the prime sponsors of the resolution. “I find it especially disconcerting that they have not furnished any alternatives to a plan that will more than double taxes.”

The panel would issue a report in mid-March.

WBOC reached out to lower Delaware's other vo tech school, Polytech in Kent County.

Superintendent Deborah Zych says the school is in a favorable fiscal position. It is fully staffed and has about $6 million in its rainy day fund. The school has an annual operating budget of $18.5 million dollars.

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