Milford Holds Referendum Tuesday - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Milford Holds Referendum Tuesday

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MILFORD, Del. - It's the day that school officials have been awaiting for months.

In the ten hours between 10:00am and 8:00pm on Tuesday, residents will be pouring into the Milford School District to cast their vote on a controversial tax increase. The tax increase would look to tackle overcrowding in the district, as well as cuts in state and federal funding. 

Overcrowding:

The district says it is currently approximately 500 students over capacity. To address this, the district is looking to build a brand new 1,400-student high school, on a 190 acre plot of land, across from Redners on Route 113. The total cost of this school would be just about $70 million, but local funding would only be for $21 million.

The current high school would then be re-purposed as a Junior High School, servicing grades seven and eight. The Milford Central Academy would then take in grades five and six. The three elementary schools would service ages one to four.

Funding Cuts:

The district says they have seen $3.4 Million in cuts from the state and federal governments. As a result the district is looking for an additional $3 million per year to offset the state reductions, and to expand programs.

Between the new school and the operation cost increase, the average homeowner ($150,000) would see the following increases, according to the district: 

Year One: $7.14 per month or $85 per year.

Year Two: $14.68 per month or $176 per year.

Year Three: $19.02 per month or $228 per year.

The Voters:

Kristin Conway joined WBOC at Morris Early Childhood Center on Monday morning. She has one student in the district already, with two more on the way. She said the vote was a no-brainer for her.

"This is important because this is a long-term plan," she said. "This is about the future. This is about our children. But this is about our community as a whole." 

Conway was joined by various other parents, who are part of "Buccaneer Tomorrow," a coalition of parents who have expressed their support for the project.

"I'm okay with paying some more taxes," she said.  "I feel like someone helped pay for my education. And I think that the children are our future. And we really need to keep that in mind."

Signs for both sides of the referendum are sprinkled around town. On the bottom of the "Say No" signs, is the phrase "Paid For by Councilman Gleysteen and friends."

"I think this type of funding creates an environment for wasteful spending," said Councilman Dirk Gleysteen. "We get everything we need and a lot of things that we don't."

Gleysteen has called for the renovation of the old Middle School instead.

"I'd much rather see them revamp the Middle School then move the location," he said. "Not to have that building vacant for the foreseeable future with no really firm plan in place for it."

But the district said that this plan to renovate the middle school would actually cost more. The Delaware Department of Education deemed the old middle school unworthy of additional investment, which would mean that the district would be fully responsible. According to Supt. Phyllis Kohel, renovation would cost an estimated $36 million in local funds. That is approximately $15 million more than what The Milford School District would pay for a new high school.

Sussex Tech: How it Relates?

Currently a bill has passed the Delaware House, and is being considered by the Delaware Senate, which would increase county taxes temporarily by 23 percent. Some advocates for the referendum expressed concerned that this would make local Milford voters less likely to vote for higher taxes.

Danny Vezmar, from Buccaneer Tomorrow, said he is hopeful this won't be the case.

"We don't have a choice in paying our county taxes to the Tech schools," he said. "And some folks choose to send their kids there. And some don't. But this is about making sure we're involved and engaged. Not just for the Milford School District. But for Milford as a community."

Milford School District residents over the age of 18 can vote at four different polling booths: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School, Lulo Ross Elementary School, Mispillion Elementary School, and The Morris Early Childhood Center.

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