Bridgeville Events
Thursday, February 24th, 2000
 
District asks residents to hike taxes
By Lynn R. Parks
If residents of the Woodbridge School District approve Tuesday's referendum, their property taxes will increase by 67.5 percent. While superintendent Dr. Kevin Carson knows that that is a significant increase, he feels that voters will support it.
"I want people to know that this is a huge increase," said Carson. "We haven't hidden from that. But we also know that we have to present the opportunity for voters to have the type of school system this money will support."
The district is asking residents to approve two tax boosts, both of which would support the creation of a separate middle school housing grades five through eight. If approved, about two-thirds of the tax increase would come from a major capital tax for construction costs. The construction portion of the increase would also pay for improvements to current buildings, including technology upgrades, roof replacements, air conditioning and mechanical improvements.
The remainder of the increase would be from a current expense tax to pay for staff and materials for the new school.
"We hope that people realize that we really need both portions passed," said Carson. "We want them to see the relationship between them and that both are equally important."
If approved, the tax increase would be phased in over two years. A person living in a $30,000 home (assessed value, based on 1974 values, of $4,410) would see a $31.27 increase the first year ($31.28 in Kent County). The second year, the tax would jump at about the same amount for a total increase of $62.53 ($62.57 in Kent). On a $60,000 home, the first-year increase is $62.53 ($62.57 in Kent); total increase would be $125.07 ($125.14 in Kent). Senior citizen rebates would apply.
Harold Sheets, former board member and current president of the Raider Committee, said that the committee was charged two years ago with studying the district's buildings and needs. Last year, as a short-term solution to crowded conditions at the 900-pupil elementary school in Greenwood, the committee recommended that modular classrooms be installed; there are four such classrooms at the elementary school now and, said Carson, if the referendum does not pass, more will be moved in.
This year, the committee, which is made up of about 30 staff members and district residents, recommended that the district pursue construction of the new school.
"We are growing incredibly fast," said Carson. "We have gone from 1,600 students in 1997 to 1,830 as of Sept. 9, 1999. And when we came back from Christmas break, we had 1,900 students." Carson said that middle-school classrooms have 31 or 32 students.
In addition to alleviating overcrowding, Carson said that a new school would concentrate middle school students in one building, making instruction easier. Parents have requested that seventh and eighth graders be separated from high school students.
A boost in the current expense rate would mean that the district, whose budget for fiscal year 1999 was $13,940,229, would qualify for $103,464 in additional state money. The state gives a district its full amount of equalization funds only if the district's tax rate meets state standards.
The current Woodbridge rate is at about 70 percent of that standard; based on that, the district received $1.439 million in equalization funding in 1999. To help make up for that lost money, the district is dependent on "held harmless" funding, appropriated annually by the state to districts that are financially vulnerable. "Not only would we get more money from the state, but it would mean that we were not dependent on that held harmless money," said Carson.
The district last had a current expense referendum approved in 1987. A referendum on a tax increase failed in March 1998.
"We have gone 13 years without an increase," said Carson. "That is the longest period of time in the state."
Many changes have occurred in the district since the 1998 referendum, which Carson believes will make voters more likely to support Tuesday's referendum. "We have a new superintendent," he said. "We have a new high school principal. We have a new middle school principal. We have a lot of new teachers."
In addition, he said, the middle and high schools are involved in a new program, "High Schools That Work," designed by the Southern Regional Education Board. In fact, the middle school received a state grant as the state's pilot school for the program. Changes at the two schools will include block scheduling and annual monitoring of programs to make sure they are working. "There is a direct connection between this and state standards," said Carson.
"Our attitude is better. Discipline is better," Carson added. "Our kids are on task. Certainly our successful athletic programs have been a factor in this." The Raider football team was undefeated in it regular season this year and participated in the state championship series.
The 86,000-square foot middle school would accommodate 700 students, the number enrolled in fifth through eighth grades now, said Carson. Size of the school is determined by the state. Total construction cost would be $21.887 million, 75 percent of which would be paid by the state. The local share would be $5.471 million.
The school would be built on land the district bought 30 years ago, shortly after the Bridgeville and Greenwood districts consolidated to form Woodbridge. The 128-acre plot is located between the two towns, on the corner of Adams Road and Woodbridge Road.
"It really is the perfect place," said Carson. "It is between the two towns, there is a sewer line running right in front of it. You can stand there and look at it and you can see a school. You can see fields, bleachers, buses coming in. You can see it all sitting right there."
"I believe voters will see the benefits of this new school," said Raider Committee president Sheets. "And if they look at the benefits, this referendum will pass."
"This is a very tough thing for people to decide," said Carson. "It is a question of rewards and of the quality of the school system. We certainly hope that both sections pass, but if the citizens feel otherwise, we will continue to do the best possible job we can. But they can expect to see class sizes increase, facilities stay in the condition they are in and more and more modular classrooms."