On Tuesday, October 6, at a special meeting of the Milford School District Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Kohel introduced information to the board about what the district’s legislatives priorities were for the 2015-16 school year. The board will discuss the priorities further at their next meeting, scheduled for October 19, 2015.
The first priority that the district would like to see addressed by Delaware legislators is an elimination of all unfunded mandates. Dr. Kohel said that the district believes that all programs, projects or requirements mandated by the state should be funded by the state in order to avoid placing a financial burden on local school districts. In addition, the district would like to see funding restored in the form of flexible spending appropriations.
“The last property reassessment in Kent County occurred in the mid-eighties and Sussex County in the early seventies,” Ms. Kohel said. “School districts rely on property assessments as part of their funding. These outdated local property assessments have created a stagnant funding source as well as a significant disparity between districts in terms of equitable funding.” Therefore, the district has asked that property assessments be updated throughout both Kent and Sussex to address this funding issue.
The final legislative priority for the district is one that several legislators who represent Milford have asked to be addressed over the past few years. Prevailing wage is a controversial subject that Senator Gary Simpson and Representative Harvey Kenton have both been outspokenly against. When a balanced budget was passed by the state at the end of June 2015, Governor Jack Markell agreed to look at prevailing wage.
“While prevailing wage is a difficult subject to understand without going into long discourse, the thing to remember is that with the changes that were enacted under the budget, many of our public works projects could end up costing us 20 to 25 percent less,” Senator Simpson said. Prevailing wages are an hourly wage that includes benefits and overtime paid to the majority of workers, laborers or mechanics within a certain area. Many legislators believe that prevailing wage hurts free market competition and causes escalated costs for public projects, including schools, because prevailing wage is often based on union wages in an area rather than the average salary in that area.
As part of their legislative priorities for the upcoming year, Milford School District supports a full repeal of the prevailing wage law, or at minimum, the ability to opt-out of the prevailing wage requirement for school projects.
“Under current law, the State of Delaware determines the appropriate wage to be paid by contractors bidding on public projects,” Dr. Kohel explained. “All bidders must pay the prevailing wage, meaning that even if a contractor could provide a service at a lower cost because their company has lower personnel costs, they must charge and pay the higher wage. Depending on economic conditions, this could increase local costs by 40 to 60 percent.”
School board members were asked to review the legislative priorities and bring any questions to the next board meeting. The public is also welcome to provide their input into what should be priorities for the district at the legislative level.