Voters in Delaware’s third-largest district approved a tax hike Tuesday, sparing the district a potential budget cut.
Residents of the Brandywine School District–which covers parts of Wilmington and its suburbs–voted 9,612 to 5,780 in favor of the increase. The approved referendum will raise property taxes by 28 cents per $100 of assessed value. For the average Brandywine homeowner, property taxes will increase by about $206 a year, according to the district.
A similar proposal failed in March by less than 200 votes. One significant difference, the prior ask included funding for turf athletic fields. The March referendum also drew just 7,621 total votes. On Tuesday, 15,392 residents turned out, according to an unofficial count from the New Castle County Department of Elections.
Prior to the vote, Brandywine officials said they would have to cut about $8 million from the district budget–including $3.3 million in staffing costs–if the proposal failed. The district spent about $174 million in fiscal year 2016.
Contentious referenda votes have become a familiar part of the Delaware education landscape in recent years. School districts in Delaware must earn voter approval before increasing property taxes. Delaware school districts rely on local funds for about 30 to 40 percent of their revenues.
It’s been decades since the government reassessed home values in New Castle County. Many school officials argue that the only way to keep pace with routine increases in the cost of services and materials is to seek tax hikes. In many states, those increases are built automatically into school budgets. In Delaware, they must be approved by voters.
Opponents often argue the school districts should do more with the money allocated, and point out that Delaware schools are relatively well funded. The Brandywine School District, for example, spent $13,940 per student in fiscal year 2013, according to a national tally of school district spending recently released by NPR and Education Week . The average school district spent just $11,841 per NPR’s calculation. Those figures are both adjusted for regional differences in cost of living.
In fact, according to the NPR study, only one major school district in Delaware, Appoqunimink, spent less than the national average per student. Brandywine, meanwhile, spent slightly more than the nearby Colonial and Red Clay School Districts. It spent significantly less than the Christina School District.
Christina, also in New Castle County, recently won a tight referendum vote after two failed attempts. Prior to losing its referendum vote in March, Brandywine had won tax increases in 2012 and 2007. The 2007 win came just months after a referendum defeat.
Brandywine residents also approved a three-and-a-half cent tax bump on Tuesday that will go toward building repairs. In reality that measure will not increase resident taxes since it will take effect at the same time other costs are expiring.
The capital request will pay for renovations at Carrcroft Elementary School, Claymont Elementary School, and Brandywine High School.