On Tuesday, October 6, residents of Milford School District are being asked to go to the polls and increase taxes in order to help the district correct a deficit in their operations budget. This will be the third operations referendum for the district in two years. In addition to addressing a deficit of approximately $1.2 million, the district also hopes to expand and create additional learning pathways for students.
“Planning for the future, we realize that we have an opportunity to bring a program into the high school level that will not only prepare students for post-secondary studies, but it will better prepare them to go directly into the work force in a variety of fields in the health services,” said Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superitendent. “For example, the state, through the Career and Technical Education program offers a variety of career pathways that are specific to a particular field of study, or they offer career clusters that are broader occupational groupings that define a set of common knowledge and skills required to be successful in a career.” Dr. Kohel explained that a career cluster identifies common knowledge and skills associated within a similar field, such as health, tourism and hospitality, human services or law.
Dr. Kohel said that the opening of a new medical facility in Milford, the opening of a branch of the A.I DuPont Children’s Hospital and the increase in private practice physicians’ offices that are expected when the new hospital is completed will provide a number of opportunities for students to become employed in the health services field. These positions include physician, pharmacist, dental and radiological assistants as well as clerical and administrative positions. Therefore, Dr. Kohel said that the district is investigating adding a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program to the high school which would allow students to graduate with a CNA certificate.
“However, that program requires a dedication of a lecture room and a clinical lab that are adjoined,” Dr. Kohel said. “Furthermore, the cost of equipping the lab starts at around $50,000. We can’t supply either at this time, but we don’t want that to stop us from being able to offer our students some new and exciting opportunities so we are exploring other avenues.”
According to Alice Bavis Rausch in Bayhealth’s media department, the hospital will require a strong education program in order to staff the new hospital. “An educated and skilled workforce is vital to providing health care services for residents of Sussex County,” Ms. Rausch said. “As development of the new health campus progresses, Bayhealth will continue focusing on the recruitment of healthcare providers to meet the growing needs of the community. As we recruit medical professionals, one of the first things they consider when relocating is the strength of the school system.”
Ms. Rausch said it is difficult to know now what types of careers will be available once the new hospital is built, but that they will recruit locally as well as nationally in order to provide the area with the best in medical treatment.
Although the district hopes to add additional pathways for high school students, the need to pass an operations referendum is even more critical as the district will exhaust their contingency funds within the next year if taxes are not increased. Dr. Kohel said that the district has already cut athletic programs, positions and other programs in an effort to meet the budget deficit. These cuts have allowed the district to extend their ability to meet payroll obligations through the 2016-17 school year. In order to be proactive, the district met with representatives of the Office of Management and Budget along with a number of representatives and senators from across the state. According to state regulations, if the district cannot meet their local payroll obligations, the Office of Management and Budget will send a team into the district to determine what cuts would allow the district to meet their obligations.
“What we learned was that if the state had to come in, they would make all financial decisions within the district,” Dr. Kohel said. “That means they could require us to eliminate programs, they could force us to eliminate positions or they could enforce things like implementing the match tax which this district currently does not enforce. At this time, there has been no indication that this district could be or would be forced to consolidate with another district. These are all extreme measures that we do not expect to happen, and, with the help of this community, this district will continue to thrive and grow.”
If the referendum passes, the average increase for homeowners in Milford School District will be $140 per year, or around $12 per month. If the referendum fails, the district may need to implement further cuts such as pay-to-pay sports or elimination of some athletic programs completely. In addition, the district would have to eliminate two School Resource Officers once the contract with the city expires, reduce staff, as well as further eliminate supplies and materials provided to students.
Anyone who lives in Milford School District is eligible to vote in the referendum. There is no registration required and you do not have to be a property owner in order to vote. Voters are required to prevent photo identification and must be United States citizens. Voting will be held from 10 am until 8 pm at Milford High School, Banneker Elementary School and Morris Early Childhood Center. For more information on how and where to vote, individuals can contact Milford School District at 302-422-1600.