Milford Residents Get Unexpected Tax Hike from "Tuition Tax" - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Milford Residents Get Unexpected Tax Hike from "Tuition Tax"

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Students were hard at work on the first day at Lulo Ross Elementary. The tuition cost can not be used for general expenses within the district (Source: WBOC) Students were hard at work on the first day at Lulo Ross Elementary. The tuition cost can not be used for general expenses within the district (Source: WBOC)

MILFORD, Del. - Neighbors in Milford got a pretty substantial surprise on their latest tax bill, as their "Tuition Tax" skyrocketed over one year. The Milford School District told WBOC that these costs directly correlated with the increasing number of students in need. 

"We had a rise this past year," said Superintendent Kevin Dickerson. "As far the number of students that needed the services outside our district and also increasing costs within those places as well. So yes, this is a tax rate that is very difficult to predict year to year. It's a tax rate that has a lot of variance in year to year."

The Milford School District levies four different types of taxes, including two that must go to referendum, and two that do not. Increases to the "Current Operating Expenses" tax and the "Debt Service" tax must go to referendum, whereas the "Tuition Tax" and the "Match Tax" can be raised or lowered at the discretion of the school board. 

According to the district, the Tuition Tax "provides revenue to pay tuition costs of Milford School District students with special needs who must attend special schools within and outside of the State of Delaware."  Due to increasing need, the district set the total amount of funds from the Tuition Tax to $3.5 million for FY 2017, an increase of more than $1 million compared to what was projected in 2015. 

Two of the more expensive schools students were sent to were the Sussex Consortium in Lewes and the Howard T. Ennis School in Georgetown. According to data provided by the Milford School District, 30 students are expected to go to the Sussex Consortium at a cost of $42,530 each. Meanwhile, 15 students are expected to go to Howard T. Ennis, at a cost of $29,150 each. Between those two schools alone, the district is paying more than $1.7 million. 

The district is also paying for 20 students to enroll in the Sussex County Opportunity Program (SCOPE), which is located at the Woodbridge School District. This program "deals with student discipline problems and emotionally disturbed students in grade 6 through 12."  Between tuition and transportation costs, the SCOPE program cost the district more than $155,000. 

According to the district there are in between 340 and 350 students who are currently benefiting from the Tuition Tax. 

"A tuition tax is important for us," said Dickerson. "To be able to provide the best service for our students. We have many students here who have needs. Special needs that we need to accommodate. And sometimes there are better settings outside of our district who can we do that than we can inside our district at this time."

This increase to the tuition tax happened at the same time as an increase to the Operating Expenses Tax kicked in. This increase of $1.5 million was approved by Milford neighbors during an October referendum. 

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