Facing near flat tax revenues and rising costs, the Red Clay School District is seeking an operating tax increase from its residents on Feb. 24,2015. Polls are open at every Red Clay school (except Central) from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The plan, which was made public in August calls for a 20 cent increase in Year One, a 10 cent increase in Year Two and a 5 cent increase in Year Three.
Chief Financial Officer Jill Floore said the increase is needed after seven years without an operating referendum because cost increases have outpaced near flat revenues. Floore said that the nature of local education funding which mandates that operating increases are approved by voters, is a system which results in school districts needing to go to referendum on a regular basis. Although local per pupil expenditures have been limited to an average increase of 1.12% since 2008, set increases in salary, pension funds, and healthcare benefits alone have outpaced the flat revenue stream.
The last operating referendum in Red Clay was in 2008 and was projected to last four years. The district was able to stretch the 2008 referendum increase for seven years through sound fiscal management and one-time federal funds.
"This is not a district that has been spending greatly since 2008," said Floore. "We were able to use federal support for school districts through ARRA stimulus funds to stretch out the time needed before another referendum, but we have also talked each and everv year how we knew this day was coming" Floore said. "This is not the result of anything going wrong, or any decisions we've made, like the new school, or Pre-K, or academic deans," she said. "When you have flat revenues, you end up spending down a balance but that balance does not last forever."
The tax rate increase would mean the average Red Clay taxpayer with a house assessed, not valued, at $80,100 would pay an additional $23 a month in school taxes at its highest level.
In order to meet payroll and other obligations over the summer months, Red Clay must end the fiscal year in June with a $7 million balance. Floore projected that meeting the year-end balance in 2016 would require $9 million in cuts, with that figure rising each year. "We must do something,"she said, "but it is not a matter of cutting our way out of a referendum."
Throughout the last seven years we have been in cost containment mode so $9M in cuts would result in very, very difficult choices. "Everything in the district would be touched by something of that magnitude" Floore said.
Funding allocated in the referendum allows the district to continue a number of high priority initiatives and improvements outlined in the 2013 Strategic Plan. They include increased security measures and school resource officers, reading specialists, after school programs, infrastructure improvements such as playgrounds and technology, curriculum programming such as STEM and International Baccalaureate and alternative placement programs.
A successful referendum would also allow the district to make substantial improvements in curriculum and technology, with $1.3 million going to technology and$.2.7 million going to curriculum in the first year alone. Additional funding would allow the district an infusion of technology and devices for
students and additional software and training to create a 21st Century Learning environment, said Assistant Superintendent Ted Ammann.
On the curriculum side, math textbooks that are nearly 15 years old would be replaced and a number of supports would be added or enhanced, said Deputy Superintendent Hugh Broomall. In addition to textbooks and software, they include full time school interventionists, reading supports, a writing program and Talented and Gifted (TAG) programs in all Red
Clay elementary schools.