Referendum would pay for school roofs and elevators

By Lynn R. Parks

The Seaford School District is asking residents to approve a hike in school taxes to help pay for new roofs on four schools and new elevators in two schools. A referendum on the tax hike will be Tuesday, April 13. If approved, taxpayers in the district would pay an additional 5.88 cents per $100 of assessed property value. For the average homeowner in the district, that would mean an additional $10 a year. Average property assessment in the district is about $16,000. "The tax increase would equal less than $1 a month," said Donna Blackburn, director of administrative services, finance and payroll. Total project cost would be about $6.6 million. Of that, the district would pay $1.172 million and the state the balance. Bonds for the project would be paid off over 20 years. Tax rates would decline during the life of the bonds. Blackburn said that the project would include new roofs for Central Elementary, Seaford Middle and West Seaford Elementary schools, as well as a new roof for the gym at the Seaford Middle School. The elevators that would be replaced are in Seaford Middle School and Seaford High School. The project does not include replacing the roof over the West Seaford cafeteria, which collapsed last month under weight of heavy snows. The cost of that project will be paid through state insurance. The state would pay 73 percent of the cost of the roof replacement and elevator projects. Approval of the referendum will also give the OK for construction of a wing on Central Elementary School to accommodate the district's elementary students who are orthopedically handicapped and who currently meet in

four classrooms in Frederick Douglass Elementary School. The state would pay 100 percent of the cost of that construction. If the project is OK'd, the four Fred Douglass classrooms would be freed up for other uses, Blackburn said. "This is a very conservative referendum with a relatively small tax increase," she added. "I look at some of the other school districts and the referenda they are holding and this one is relatively minor. It is really just for basic needs, no frills. We look at it as a protection of the taxpayers' investment." Blackburn said that roofs in the four schools are in bad shape. "When it rains hard, we have large trash barrels around to catch water," she said. "Central Elementary is the worst." Blackburn was unable to say, if the referendum is approved, when construction would get underway. The state portion of the costs will have to be approved as part of the 2010-2011 bond bill. "We have every indication, due to the nature of the referendum, that [the money] would be provided," she added. This referendum was originally scheduled for Feb. 23. It had to be postponed after the state passed legislation that revamped the way districts have to provide public notice for referendums. Even though the referendum had already been planned and advertised, the state required that it be rescheduled and that the district advertise it again. "The state changed the rules of the game after we had already begun the referendum process," superintendent Russell Knorr said during last week's school board meeting. "It is not a good idea to change the rules of the game in the middle of the process."

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