Difficult decisions loom for Christina
District facing $6M in state cuts
Once again, tough decisions loom for the Christina School District.
Just a year after finally finding its financial footing by passing a referendum, the district is facing a nearly $6 million cut in state funding.
“We have a pretty good idea of what $6 million looks like,” new Superintendent Richard Gregg told the school board on Tuesday, his first day leading the district. “It isn’t pretty. It’s people, and it impacts kids.”
Facing a $394 million shortfall in the state’s budget, Gov. John Carney is calling for an equal mix of revenue increases and budget cuts. His proposed budget raises $64.6 million by
increasing the income tax and eliminating itemized deductions, $161.1 million by increasing the maximum tax that corporations pay and $16 million by increasing the tax on tobacco.
Meanwhile, nearly every aspect of government would see cuts as Carney is calling for a 4.5-percent reduction in state agency discretionary spending, eliminating 200 vacant positions, and cutting millions of dollars from education.
However, Carney is also proposing that school districts be allowed to raise property taxes – without a referendum – to make up a portion of the cuts. Currently, schools must go to referendum to seek approval from taxpayers before raising school taxes.
Under Carney’s proposal, districts could impose a “match tax” to replace a portion of the state cuts. However, anything above that would still require a referendum.
Christina could raise taxes to mitigate approximately $4 million in state cuts, still leaving administrators to cut $2 million from the budget, Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber said. Doing so would increase school taxes by 7.3 cents per $100 of assessed value, for a yearly increase of $46.79 for the average homeowner.
But while raising taxes would lessen the blow of the state cuts, it would put the district in a tough spot. Increasing taxes likely would be unpopular and could damage the good will the district worked hard to build during last year’s referendum campaign, when Christina leaders sold voters on a vision for a “new Christina.”
The referendum, passed in March 2016, raised taxes by 30 cents per $100 of assessed property value, for an average of $192 more per year.
On Tuesday, Silber asked the board to start think- ing about whether it would seek to raise taxes. The state legislature won’t vote on the state budget until the end of June, but district administrators need to start planning for the impact of the looming cuts.
If the board raises taxes – limiting the funding loss to $2 million – the district would see cuts to building budgets, technology, professional development, the high school credit recovery program and extra pay for extra responsibility – money teachers get for taking on extra duties like coaching sports. In addition, unfilled non-academic positions, like secretaries and custodians, would go unfilled, Silber said.
However, if the board chooses not raise taxes, the cuts would go much deeper, and could involve eliminating academic positions.
“There is not a lot of room to squeeze anything out of this district,” Silber said. “It’s a fairly tightly run organization. Whatever we cut, wherever we cut, people are going to feel the pain.”
Board members expressed frustration that Carney is essentially shifting the burden – and the blame – for raising taxes from the state to the district.
“We’re the ones who will get killed by the public,” Shirley Sutton-Saffer said. John Young concurred. “It’s not fair for the governor and legislature to slough off this responsibility onto us,” Young said.
The board asked Silber to come back to a future meeting with a detailed list of the cuts required to accommodate a $6 million funding loss.
Sutton-Saffer said the district needs to clearly explain the situation to residents and encourage them to lobby Carney and the legislature to find a way to avoid cuts to education.
“We’ve got to get out in front of it,” she said. “If we don’t, it’s everyone in this district who will take the blame for it.”