Delaware Lawmakers Eye Giving School Boards Ability to Raise Tax - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Delaware Lawmakers Eye Giving School Boards Ability to Raise Taxes Without Voter Approval

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DOVER, Del. --- Legislation recently introduced into Delaware's General Assembly would give school boards the ability to raise property taxes for schools without local voter approval.

The house bill says beginning in July 2020, a school board could increase the rate or amount of its district operating tax by at least 2 percent every year, indefinitely, without holding a referendum.

Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association, said the legislation could help districts from having to wage campaigns to get voters to approve referenda that --- if failed --- could result in layoffs for faculty and staff.

"Students who need special services, students who need a push in the right direction are ultimately going to be the ones who lose out because a referendum doesn't pass," she said.

But the measure has some opposition from some local school board members and lawmakers who argue it may reduce local representation for taxpayers and dramatically shift the focus of school board elections.

"That changes the whole dynamic of what that school board would be doing and should be doing as far as financial decisions," said Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown).

Capital School Board Member Sean Christiansen, whose district recently saw a request for capital and operational tax hikes approved by voters, argued the bill could potentially put property owners on the hook for unnecessary tax increases.

Instead of passing the legislation, Christiansen suggested lawmakers look into making sure the state is doing enough to properly fund education around the state.

"Let's look at what's going on at the top level before we kick the bucket down the curb to the bottom level," he said.

A school district could still hold a referendum if officials wanted to raise the operating tax by more than 2 percent or a rate equal to the increase in the consumer price index. A referendum also would still be required to pay for major construction projects.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark) disagreed with those who argue the legislation would reduce taxpayers' ability to weigh in on how high school taxes are in their communities.

That involvement, Baumbach said, would come during school board elections.

"If you don't like somebody saying a 2 percent increase is against the person who said that," he said. "That's representative government. That's what we have here in Delaware."

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