Do You Support Public Education in Delaware?

Filed in Featured by on March 11, 2016

I do.

This is a call to action for public education supporters anywhere in Delaware. You are no doubt aware that “Super Referendum Wednesday” is coming up on March 23rd. On the same day, Cape Henlopen, Brandywine, and Christina School Districts are going out for referenda. Cape and Brandywine are doing combined operating and capital referenda, Christina is going just for an operating referendum. It is crucial to support all 3 districts, but one in particular needs our support more than ever.

Christina School District failed to pass a referendum twice last year. In February we lost by a 2-1 margin (6,000 against, 3,000 for). We took it on the chin and regrouped. We listened to what the community was telling us as to why they voted no. Parents, teachers, residents, students all got together and worked as a team to campaign hard, and I mean HARD for a second attempt in May. We lost that one by around 500 votes. (5600-5100). We closed the gap, but couldn’t take the lead.

The result of those failures? 78 teachers laid off. 17 paraprofessionals laid off. Class sizes ballooned to 35-45 kids in a classroom. Activities cut, transportation cut. School building budgets cut to bare bones. Student support services like counselors and instructional aides cut. School Resource Officers cut. Popular programs were eliminated and their instructors let go because there would be no funding to keep them going this year. We managed to keep most art, music, phys ed and drama programs. Librarians, as you also know, were eliminated from middle and high schools.  That got everyone upset. Even those who voted no for both referenda. In the end, we lost, again, but our 15,500 children in our schools lost more.  We, as the parents, teachers, residents, who worked tirelessly to rally support for our kids and schools, failed them despite everything we tried.

So we went to the drawing board again and brought the Christina community with us. We came back with a new Acting Superintendent and path to a new Christina. It was clear that the community wanted change, and we want to make change happen.  Christina’s referendum will do 3 main things.

Improve School Climate & Discipline.  Face it, we’ve got major discipline issues in our schools in this State. Teachers and schools have their hands tied and are unable to properly address problems when they arise. That doesn’t work, at all. Christina wants to change how we process disciplinary issues. Repeatedly disruptive students must be removed from the classroom and given the appropriate services they need in a setting that’s safe for them, the staff, and the rest of the students in the school. Whether that means alternative placement, or homebound services, or something else that’s what we are going to determine.

And we start doing that by getting every single area of the district represented in a committee to lay the problems out on the table, go through our policies and make changes to fix the problems. That’s starting in the next 2 weeks. A Community Action Committee will form with the goal of bringing major policy and procedural changes to the District for implementation. We’re looking top to bottom, A to Z, at everything to determine what must change. When we’ve got those changes ready to execute, $1 million is earmarked in this referendum for discipline and climate related changes in the District.

Enhance Existing Education Opportunities. Christina has absolutely awesome programs. From the REACH program, to Gauger’s Business Professionals of America Team, to our outstanding arts programs, fantastic drama and performing arts programs, band and music programs, to Lego Robotics and Engineering clubs (YES! That’s a thing and makes me want to be in elementary school again!), career pathway programs like the new Forensic Science STEM program at Glasgow High School, Language Immersion programs to our amazing student athletes and budding philanthropists and advocates for those in need! These school programs are directly supported by operating funds raised through property taxes. And all of them depend on Christina’s operating referendum passing.

Build a NEW Christina, Together. CHEESE CITY! I know. But it’s the truth. The District needs to change and reinvent itself and there is funding in this referendum to start that process moving. The feedback we’ve been getting from talking to parents, business leaders, residents, legislators coalesces into certain themes: We want expanded bio-medical science, agri-science and visual and performing arts magnet programs in our high schools. We want to explore K-8 and 6-12 grade configuration models to relieve the strain on our overcrowded middle and elementary schools. We want to explore expanding Early Education service to more areas of the District.  And over the next two years we want to begin doing as much as we can, and put plans in place for what we can’t do without additional support. And we want everyone involved in this process. No matter who you are, your voice is important in this transformation process.

What’s the District asking for? An additional $0.30 per $100 of assessed property value that would generate an additional $16.2 million per year. What would that do? $4 million would go toward bringing back the teachers and staff we had to cut (yes, including librarians), and reduce our class sizes. $4 million would go toward the operating fund to keep the district functioning at pre-budget cut staffing levels for the next 2 years. $1 million set aside for discipline and school climate changes. $4 million for increased existing operating costs (energy, salaries & benefits, utilities, etc). $2 million to restore classroom supplies and school building budgets. $100k for the surveying and consulting on our buildings and infrastructure to determine what must be done to actually carry out the plans and programs I mentioned in the last paragraph. This referendum will position the District to “Pave the Way” to a transformation of the Christina School District. It starts on March 23 with yes votes for the referendum.

What’s that extra $0.30 break down to in terms of our taxes? Well, the average assessed property value in Christina is $61k. The increase would result in a +$192/yr change in property taxes for the average homeowner ($16/month, or $3.70/week.) That’s just the average though. We know many property owners fall on either side of the average. For a higher assessment, say $140k, the increase would result in a +$420/yr change ($35/month, or $8/week). For those on the lower side, an assessment of $36k would result in a +$108/yr change ($9/month or $2.08/week).

I’m calling on every one of you who sees value in our public education system, whether you live in Christina School District or not, to support the referendum. Share why you support public education and what it means for the kids who walk through our school doors every day. 15,553 children in Christina are depending on the success of this referendum.  Many parents, teachers, administrators and students are out in force championing our District, but we need more supportive voices. The referendum system is not an ideal way to fund our schools, but right now it’s all we have in Delaware and it is what we have to work with. Christina hasn’t had a successful Operating Referendum since 2010. It’s time to support our kids, teachers, and schools.

When is the vote? Wednesday March 23, 2016. Polls are open 10am-8pm.

Who can vote? Anyone who is a US citizen 18 years of age or older who lives in the Christina School District. You do not need to own property. You will need proof of identity and residency at the polls. You can vote at ANY polling place in the District and you do NOT have to be a registered voter.

For Christina’s Referendum, more details can be found here including polling places, FAQs, voter eligibility, tax calculators, and more.

For those of you who don’t know, I have two sons in Christina, a first grader and a 6th grader. I volunteer on the Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee that monitors how the District spends its funds. I am also serving as a Co-Chair of the Christina School District Referendum Steering Committee and I, along with my committee members our fantastic school principals, teachers, and district leadership are doing everything we can to showcase this District, what it has to offer and what we want it to offer and rally support for the March 23rd Vote.


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About the Author ()

A dad, husband, and public education supporter. Small tent progressive/liberal. Christina School District Citizen's Budget Oversight Committee member, who knows a bit about a lot when it comes to the convoluted mess that is education funding in the State of Delaware.

Comments (14)

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  1. John Young says:

    I do.

  2. puck says:

    It depends.

  3. jason330 says:

    All of our societal problems are condensed and collected in our schools, they we deprive them of the funding they need to deal with the problems effectively. Good luck with this. I’m afraid the GOP message (adopted by “centrist” Dems) of “ALL TAXES ARE EVIL ALL THE TIME” has settled into the national bone marrow.

  4. pandora says:

    I believe in public education and a educated society. Both of my children graduated from public schools and I couldn’t be happier with their education.

    I always have trouble understanding Christina residents’ resistance to referendums. They are necessary/inevitable since this is how districts receive funding. They simply must happen.

    So much of Christina’s residents’ problems with referendums seem tied to busing and the city of Wilmington. But anyone who looks at Christina’s demographics knows the problems they face won’t change even if redistricting (moving CSD’s city schools/students to RCCD) comes to be. I’m not sure how to fix this mindset.

    I really hope CSD is successful this time. The situation is critical.

  5. mediawatch says:

    I believe that suburban Christina residents (probably even more so than those in Red Clay, which is really hard to believe) still cling strongly to the resentment born in 1978 with the start of busing to achieve school desegregation.
    These suburban residents will continue to vote against the best interests of their own children, or of their neighbors’ children, because of resentments that have been smoldering for nearly 40 years. (Brian, I know you’re part of this demographic, but thankfully you’re not “one of them.”)
    I fear that it will be at least two years, depending on how long it takes to implement the WEIC recommendations, before suburban Christina residents can surrender their “most resentful” crown to their peers in Red Clay.

  6. pandora says:

    Agreed, mediawatch. There’s far more going on here, and it ain’t pretty.

  7. Dave says:

    Just curious as to whether there was some data collection about why those who voted “no” on the previous referendum did so. Was there an overarching specific theme?

  8. Mikem2784 says:

    Part of the problem with the referendums recently is all of the “data” that is published about “failing schools.” People feel like the schools are failing, so throwing money at the problem essentially “rewards” a school for doing a “poor” job. Now, we all know that those test only measure how poor a school is and not how well the teachers or the school performs, but to folks who only marginally pay attention, it is enough of a reason to not vote to raise their own taxes.

    A second problem is that some schools use the money for stupid stuff and then ask for more money – I think there is some legitimacy to those concerns. How many high schools upgrade their sports facilities before upgrading textbooks or technology? Not a reason to deny money to schools that need it, but public appearances matter when the public gets to vote on whether or not more money can be raised.

  9. mediawatch says:

    For more on the referenda, here are details on Christina (, Cape Henlopen (, and Brandywine (, courtesy of Delaware Public Media. Brian’s fans will also find a couple of quotes from him tucked into the Christina piece.

  10. Harrie Ellen Minnehan says:

    Nicely done, Brian. All four in my family are solid “YES” votes for the deserving kids of Christina!

  11. Kathy Armstrong says:

    Four yes votes in our house too. Thank you for all you have done to keep Christina moving forward.

  12. Rufus Y. Kneedog says:

    There are headwinds here. The $13,500 per student figure is a difficult one to overcome – its higher than St. Marks. I would like to see somewhere how much of that never leaves Dover as I think that is where the inefficiencies are.
    There are trust issues as well and I don’t think you need to go all the way back to 1978. I think of Joseph Wise every time I drive past the old Astropower building on 896.
    You’ve got my vote – thank you for your work on this and thank you for using “referenda”.

  13. puck says:

    “The $13,500 per student figure is a difficult one to overcome – its higher than St. Marks.”

    An obvious but ignorant comparison that reeks of truthiness. How many special ed or low income students are enrolled at St. Marks? Special ed and poor students cost more to educate. Public schools – at least the non-charter ones – are responsible for educating all of them.