Sussex Tech Financial Problems Up For Debate - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Sussex Tech Financial Problems Up For Debate

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GEORGETOWN, Del. - Sussex County's General Assembly delegation met twice this week to discuss the "financial problems" at the Sussex Technical School District. The school district said they are in desperate need of more funding through local taxes, but many legislators say there are better solutions.

WBOC sat down with House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf and House Minority Leader Daniel Short, both of whom said they were against increases in revenue.

"Something is wrong," said Schwartzkopf. "Your spending is not matching the revenue. The answers are one of two things. You can come for more revenue or you can cut your spending." 

Unlike other school districts in the state that can raise taxes through a referendum, Sussex Tech can only do so through a bill out of the General Assembly. Currently, the district can tax up to 23.5 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. The district is now looking to increase this to a rate of 51.5 cents instead.

Pat Cooper, the president of the school board for Sussex Tech, said that the increases were needed in order to deal with rising enrollment.

"We're at bare-bones," Cooper said. "And if it comes up and we don't get an answer here before they get out of session, we are going to have to start thinking about putting some plans together."

Cooper said that the district is currently sitting in a limbo of sorts, as they wait to find out their funding situation.

"There's a time limit," he said. "And we're not even accepting a 9th grade class yet because we don't know where our numbers are. We can't spend money we don't have so right now we're holding off."

But Schwartzkopf said increases in revenue are the wrong answer, suggesting cuts in spending instead. Notably, he said Tech pays 40 percent more on average to their teachers than equivalent staff at other districts.

"23 cents to 50 cents is a huge jump," he said. "And they're saying they're losing positions because of it. But I want to make it very clear that the state is funding those positions. It's that they can't make the local share. And if they weren't paying their employees 40 percent higher than everyone else in the county then maybe they could pay for those 18 positions."

Short had a similar perspective, telling WBOC that revenue increases are a last resort. Short said that he heard complaints from various other school districts who said they were against these increases that would impact all people, and not just Tech families.

"We're going to do the right thing by Tech," he said. "It might not be what they want. But we'll do something to allow the school district to continue."

In January, the General Assembly called for a study of possible solutions. That study brought forward five options that legislators are considering. The Sussex County delegation is expected to meet again next week, before going on their two week Easter recess.

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