Colonial sets new schools referendum, threatens massive cuts should it fail again

 Colonial School District will ask voters to approve a referendum in June. A February effort failed convincingly. (File/WHYY)

Colonial School District will ask voters to approve a referendum in June. A February effort failed convincingly. (File/WHYY)

Barely one month after voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum bid, Colonial School District has scheduled a scaled-down plan for voters to consider – and threatened massive cuts if it fails.

Delaware’s fourth-largest district with nearly 10,000 students, Colonial had sought additional funds on Feb. 28 in two separate votes. One would have paid for expanded preschool, technology upgrades and other improvements. The other would have paid for capital projects such as more secure entrances for every school. Both failed by at least 500 votes out of about 5,000 cast.

The June 6 vote seeks money for operating costs only – and no expansion of services — asking voters to pay 38 cents more per $100 of assessed value. The district did not immediately respond to a request for the cost to the average homeowner.

But in announcing the second referendum, Colonial noted impending cuts to public education from Gov. John Carney’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

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Since losing the Feb. 28 vote, Colonial has instituted a hiring, spending and travel freeze, spokeswoman Lauren Wilson wrote in a news release Monday. Should voters reject the June referendum, the release said, Colonial “is preparing to implement over $4 million in cuts for the 2017-2018 school year.”

Among the cuts:

  • Over 170 positions will be eliminated over all departments, including administrative posts. Wilson did not specify which jobs but said class sizes would increase.
  • Middle school and freshman sports would be cut.
  • Parents would be required to provide basic school supplies.
  • Student travel and field trips will be cancelled or costs will be paid by parents.
  • The Art Show, Band and Choral festivals, and STEAM Showcase will be canceled.
  • The annual Teacher of the Year and retirement dinners will be cancelled.
  • Summer enrichment programs will be cancelled, including Middle School Institute and STEM, impacting over 700 students.
  • Summer Credit Recovery Program for high school students will be cancelled.

Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey was not available for an interview because of a death in the family, Wilson said. But in a written statement, Blakey said district leaders realized that “we didn’t communicate the impact that a failed referendum will have on our schools.”

Blakey said students would still get a quality education should the referendum fail, but “we are preparing to make some very difficult choices that will impact our valued staff, and as a result, our students.”

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