Turnout in Delaware’s school board vote continued to be abysmal Tuesday, with just 1.5 percent of registered voters showing up to cast votes in 12 contested elections, a WHYY analysis shows.
The percentage of voters of who cast ballots up and down the state was slightly lower than the 1.8 percent who did so during the previous five years, according to data WHYY analyzed two weeks ago.
The lowest turnout was in the Capital School District, located in the Dover area of Kent county, where 239 people voted — 0.6 percent of the 37,771 registered voters.
Two downstate districts had the highest turnout statewide, at 3.1 percent. Those were Lake Forest, a small Kent County district where 573 of the 18,434 registered voters went to the polls, and Seaford, where 512 of 16,491 voted.
Upstate, Red Clay had the highest turnout, but still only 2 percent of the 106,128 showed up.
Turnout in Appoquinimink, Brandywine and Christina ranged from 1.0 percent to 1.2 percent.
Advocates for higher turnout remind people that school board members decide how districts spend budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, rule on disciplinary and legal matters, and handle myriad other issues that affect the education of Delaware’s 137,000 public school students.
Elizabeth Paige, president of the Christina board, said Tuesday she is dismayed by the lack of interest by voters.
“The voter turnout is disappointing to say the least. I expected higher turnout based on the crowded races alone,” said Paige, who was not up for re-election Tuesday. “We must find a way to get our community interested and involved in the most local of elections. All constituents — with or without children, with children in public or private schools — are impacted by decisions made by local school boards.”
This year school boards also could be deciding whether to increase a district’s property taxes by levying a so-called “match” tax without going to referendum. Gov. John Carney’s budget proposal, which must be decided by the state lawmakers by June 30, allows districts to raise a total of $22 million statewide by taxing residents without their approval.
WHYY’s analysis also found that turnout at tax referendums over the last five years was just 11.8 percent. The next scheduled referendum is in the Colonial district in northern New Castle County, set for June 6.
School election turnout pales in comparison to Delaware’s traditional turnout every other November. In Delaware’s last two presidential elections, turnout was 65 percent. Turnout was 35 percent for the 2014 off-year election.
Kevin Kelley, former Wilmington City Councilman and two-time mayoral candidate, said it’s time to reexamine how school board elections are done.
“We we should explore alternative methods for school boards,” Kelley said. “One may be internet voting and the other is aligning with the presidential and general elections. The school boards have more power than anybody.”