Increase in School Tax Sparks Questions

Aug 23 2016 /

v4By Terry Rogers

Property tax bills began to arrive in mailboxes last week and many residents were shocked to see a significant increase in their Milford school tax. A referendum passed in October 2015 increasing the operating expense tax rate. During informational meetings regarding the referendum, district officials indicated that for a home valued at $150,000, the tax rate would increase by approximately $120. However, homeowners are seeing bills with an increase of school taxes sometimes in excess of $500. Several residents expressed displeasure at the school board meeting on Monday, August 15.

“I was at the meeting where you talked about the referendum to the Lions Club,” said Joe Palermo. “I took notes and I reviewed it carefully. You said that a home valued at $150,000 would see an increase of around $120. I went door-to-door to the various developments in town and encouraged people to support the referendum based on that amount.” Mike Boyle, a resident of the Meadow at Shawnee, said that he saw an increase in his taxes of $581, a 91 percent increase.

Prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer of the school district, said that a presentation at the June 20 school board meeting explained the four different components of school tax paid by residents. The four different components are current operating expenses, tuition, debt service and match tax. In order to change current operating expenses or debt service, the district must put the request out to referendum and it must be approved by taxpayers. However, the tuition and match tax portions of school tax can be adjusted by the board without referendum based on state law.

“This is completely unrelated to the referendum increase which was for operating costs only,” Ms. Croce said. “When students require special services outside the district, we are mandated by federal law to provide those services. The district must pay 30 percent of those costs and the state pays the remaining 70 percent. This year, we saw a significant increase in the number of students requiring out-of-district services. One student who is in a residential placement costs the district $100,000 just for that one student and that is only the district’s share. Last year, there were just over 500 students in special programs both outside and inside the district. This year, there were almost 600.”

Ms. Croce explained that the bills for tuition to other districts, which Milford is required to pay, began arriving in March or April. She said that when the bills began to arrive, the district did not have the funding available to pay for them. They had to use local special education funds to cover the cost of the tuition. In June, the board added a tax increase in order to address the shortfall for the upcoming year based on historical data indicating that the number of special education students would continue to rise.

A review of the addendum for the June 20 meeting that is posted online did not indicate that there would be discussion about a tax increase at the school board meeting. However, when visitors arrived at the meeting, there was an addendum to the agenda with the presentation included, something that is common at Milford School Board meetings.

“There was no discussion about a tuition portion of the tax that the board could change on its own,” Mr. Boyle said. “I simply don’t trust you any longer as there is no transparency with this board. I feel like you are doing things behind the backs of the residents. I was on a school board. I’ve been in your shoes. It just seems to be that things change as you want them to. First, the Middle School cannot be repaired, now you are spending money to see if it can be. It is just a continual change with you guys and I simply can’t trust you.”

Ms. Croce said that the breakdown of the four portions of the school tax was explained during each presentation of the referendum request. A review of the slides used during the presentation does show that the district discussed the four components, stressing that the current vote was for operating expenses only and did not relate to the other three components.

“As a former accountant, I really do want to sit down and learn more from Ms. Croce,” Dan Marabello said. “We understand the assessment and value portion, I think, but the whole thing is so convoluted it simply does not make sense. I want to review the rates better because the increase was so much higher than what was discussed under the referendum.”

Ms. Croce said that the district had no other option but to raise the tuition tax rate as other districts must be paid when a child is sent to out-of-district schools. She explained that this had nothing to do with children whose parents choose to send their child to a different district, but only to those who required special services. The student who is funded under this tax must have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that indicates they need the placement. One of the special services is the district’s own Intensive Learning Center, but not all students meet the criteria to attend that school. Students may attend the Sussex Consortium, which is in Cape Henlopen District, Howard T. Ennis and G.W. Carver, both in Indian River School District or Academic Challenge in Delmar. Sussex County Opportunity Program (SCOPE) in Woodbridge, Delaware’s School for the Deaf in Christina, John S. Charlton, Kent County Elementary ILC in Caesar Rodney as well as Kent Secondary ILC and Kent County Community School in Capital are also special schools outside the district.

“Districts with those types of schools will not see as much of an increase in tuition payment as Milford who does not have those types of schools,” Ms. Croce said. “Although we do have an ILC here, some of our students simply require services above and beyond what we can offer here in Milford. The federal government requires that we provide those services. The districts that provide them must be paid for the services they provide which is why we are where we are today.”

Ms. Croce explained that any taxpayer who is 65 or older or is disabled may qualify for a school tax reduction. In order to qualify, taxpayers must have been a full-time resident for five years and must not have income other than Social Security of more than $6,000 if single or $7,500 if married. Unfortunately, the deadline to apply for the tax reduction was April 30.  Ms. Croce suggested contacting the tax office to learn what can be done if someone is unable to pay the higher taxes. Ms. Croce and Superintendent Kevin Dickerson said that any resident who wishes to

the property tax issue can call the district at 302-422-1600 or make an appointment to come in and discuss their tax bill.

23 Comments for “Increase in School Tax Sparks Questions”

  1. Spyro Stamat

    Let me get this right. The Milford School district new tax bills are almost 5 times more than originally promised. As someone who attended the public meetings and read the newspaper articles and even the letters to the editor that were in support of the increase taxes, I was not surprised . I and others tried to warn citizens that the School Board and the retired Superintendent were lying. Yes lying, just look at your new and improved tax bills which have increased 5 times more than their hypothetical $150,000 house. They are the same people that tried 3 times to build a Taj Mahal High School with a cost of $70 million. If they had many people would be facing a choice of perhaps having to sell their homes. Sadly where can you move to, it’s time to put an end to these exorbitant property taxes. Finally they have the hubris to point out that seniors who make $6,000 or less a year can apply for a senior citizen discount. Another phony statistic to show they understand. Unfortunately we all understand now they are professional liars including that group Buccaneers Tomorrow. It’s time for fiscal restraint by the School Board Members or have them replaced

  2. William Christy

    When Milford School District asked for support for the referendum last Buccaneer’s Tomorrow pushed the issue hard. When voters like myself who were opposed spoke up we were publicly ridiculed and castigated.
    W have elementary schools that are Title 1 meaning that the MAJORITY of the students are at or below poverty level. Mysteriously when the SAME students graduate to the Academy and high school they are no longer poverty level students. How is that possible, it’s not and the school district and board along with Buccaneers Tomorrow have become masters of the smoke and mirror game played on taxpayers.
    The district school board and Buccaneers Tomorrow LIED to the taxpayers in the Milford School District. Based on what taxpayers were told the tax increase proposed was roughly 10%-12%. In reality it went up 52%, in my case a $453.75 increase for 2016. Lulu Ross was eliminated as a polling location for the 2nd referendum vote. The voters in that district voted against the previous referendums. Most of those families around Lulu Ross do not drive, so they couldn’t vote. There only voting locations were Morris early learning center which is 5 miles away or the Banneker which is 3 1/2 miles away. Eliminating Lulu Ross for the last referendum vote in my humble opinion was done deliberately, to effect the outcome of the vote. No one who is already at or below poverty level would vote in favor of a substantial tax increase.
    Concerning the senior citizen reduction in school tax is Ms. Croce so out of touch with reality that she or any other school board or school administrator believes a single person with less than $5,000 income or $7,500. as a couple can afford a $200.00 increase in taxes.
    The school district board, former superintendent, and members of Buccaneer’s Tomorrow were all duplicitous in this deception against the taxpayers within the Milford School District. Shame on all of you.

  3. William Christy

    The SCOPE program is for students with discipline problems, it’s the alternative to incarceration in a juvenile facility.

  4. Kay Huether

    In order for the citizens of Milford, and every other town in Delaware, to prevent the big spenders from continuing to victimize us with runaway taxes is to petition the politicians to pass a law to put a cap on the amount of money they can spend for ANY school expense. New Jersey has a cap on school expenditures and if any school needs more than that it must go to referendum. When that happens, the referendum is always soundly defeated. NJ has outstanding schools in spite of these limits. Delaware schools rank at the bottom. School spending per student in Delaware is among the highest in the nation and we are rewarded with the lowest SAT scores. The current deceitful and sneaky actions of the school board in Milford should be investigated. Email the politicians and anyone running for office and demand an investigation and laws protecting us from any further victimization.

  5. David Scott

    So now what, can this be overturned.

    • Hell no. We have no redress once the liars and sneaks have spent the money they say they needed for “special” students!

      • Ewell B. Sorre

        Actually there is a way.
        The school board violated the law by
        Passing parts of the tax increase without
        proper public notification. The CFO, Superintendent
        and School Board members discussed and voted
        on the taxes that were not part of the referendum
        without advertising this on the agenda which is a
        Violation of Delaware law. Btw local legislators like
        Harvey Kenton, Dave Wilson and Gary Simpson have
        advised citizens to talk their School Board members.
        That is a total waste of time, they only control 5% of
        the budget. It’s our do nothing state officials that stand
        by and allow this theft to occur.

  6. Ewell B. Sorre

    We have laws that protect us from fraudulent advertising. Perhaps we need to broaden the laws scope to include Public School officials. I guess we should be thankful the new $70 Million High Schoot was defeated. These new tax bills were based on $3 Million referendum which resulted in a 5 times increase over the hypothetical example . Heaven forbid if they got their greedy hands on $70 Million. Sadly these same individuals are not only betraying the taxpayers but have failed the students many of whom are unable to met the State Standards. I also find it offensive that the CFO using another deceptive tactic to portray the Milford School District as compassionate and feels your pain. Just like their hypothetical $120 tax increase they point out that Senior Citizens are eligible for a hypothetical tax break. I ask the CFO how many Senior husband and wife couples does she know having a combined income of only $7,500 a year? Sadly the School Board and Staff who are trusted to provide a quality education along with a stewarship of public monies have betrayed us on both counts. Shame may not be enough, perhaps some type of work release.

  7. William Kent

    Milford School District when will it be enough! I moved to Milford 10 years ago and have experienced school tax rate increase after increase. Total increases to date have been 163% and the last referendum increased my school tax by $580 (51%). The salesmanship team did a wonderful job of playing to emotions and creating fear within voters. All of us want highly paid teachers and educated students. In return we expect less administrators and minimal waste on outdated infrastructure and unnecessary niceties. Sadly, the elimination of a polling location, especially one that had a record of voting NO, is a tactic from a third world dictatorship.

    I was not as surprised as others about my tax increase because I read the fine print and knew what to expect. Consider those limited income citizens who were manipulated into believing your the sales pitch and now have to pay the piper. Wouldn’t tactics like this in a public school defined as “bullying”?

    Superintendent Dickerson and the Milford School Board I challenge all of you to be fiscally responsible with your windfall of hard earned tax payer money.

  8. I posted a lengthy comment yesterday and it disappeared. Where did it go?

  9. Robert Schaap

    To all who voted for the referendum you get what you deserve. They lied to you and you believed them. Will you believe them again when they ask for more money again?

  10. Michael Mills

    The former Superintendent, Phyllis Kohl, is reaping the benefits of this tax increase for she is still employed by the District. As far as her occupation, it depends on the day of the week. She is performing odd jobs at the High School.

  11. Gregg B.

    We were completely shocked to see the Milford School Tax increase was 51% this year for us. Additionally, the Vocational School Tax has increased 21% over the past seven years. Are these increases to cover out-of-control spending? We’ve watched Milford close a couple of its schools to avoid additional costs. If the school board’s justification for increasing taxes are really caused by Federal regulations, then those costs should be burdened (paid) by the Federal Government. Who are our representatives for these taxes? Are Delaware’s school districts required to submit their entire budgets (all four components) for approval to the state representative level? Hopefully they are not allowed to self regulate, authorize and appropriate funds for any of the components of the school tax, to include the tuition and “match tax” portion, whatever that is.

    This article stated “Ms. Croce said that the district had no other option but to raise the tuition tax rate as other districts must be paid when a child is sent to out-of-district schools.” It is difficult to believe whenever someone says there are “no other options”. That mindset shows inexperience and a lack of innovation so hopefully the school has performed a cost analysis study or an analysis for alternatives that can adequately defend her statement.

    Regarding the exorbitant costs in sending students to other districts for special services, is it not feasible to hire the necessary teachers in-house, to offset these costs altogether? Especially if it really costs over $100,000 to transport one child to another district. Do other Delaware schools send their children to Milford for special services? If so, then Milford must be collecting additional funds from these other districts, correct? How are these be accounted and shown to the residents? It’s clear the Milford School Board needs to work on improving its public relations. Transparency and honesty are necessary prerequisites when it comes to public funds.

  12. Here is how New Jersey’s Governor dealt with out of control school boards:

    Gov. Chris Christie screwed the state’s property tax cap on tighter, scoring political triumph that could give voters greater control over how their towns and school districts raise and spend money.

    With his signature, Christie lowered the existing ceiling on annual increases from 4% to 2% and closed most loopholes in the existing law. When towns and schools starved of revenue want to raise taxes higher, they will have to get permission from a majority of local voters.

    “They’ve got to come and get permission from the people who pay the bills,” the Republican governor said, “this is the beginning of real property tax relief for New Jersey.”

    So where is our protection from predatory school boards? Time to ask Governor Conehead Markel. We can get hit with another 50% property tax increase next year and the gang responsible will use the same bull**** excuse they used this year. Call, write, or email the governor as well as Carper and Coons and any other DE politician and demand an investigation and the same protection that Christie gave NJ taxpayers. Do we need to elect a Republican governor to get the attention we victimized taxpayers deserve?

  13. […] Milford Live covered this increase on August 23rd.  A big issue surrounding the tax increase at the June board meeting dealt with transparency: […]

  14. Ewell B. Sorre

    The Milford School Bored, Pirates of Today, CFO Crowchi, “Retired” Fillus Coal, and new Mob Boss “Big Boy” Dickerson are all members of a Criminal Enterprise. Their goal is to acquire as much wealth from the tax paying citizens of their territory called Milford. Using unethical tactics like totally eliminating polling booths from an area that dared to vote against 2 prior referendums . At another polling place they filled the halls with non voters by offering them candy, stickers and pencils. Finally they hijacked a school bus and intimidated students that were old enough to vote if they did not vote the way the Mob wanted then their favorite teachers would be hit with termination and All sports would be wiped out. Milford School District is another Criminal Enterprise which should come as no surprise since the City itself is corrupt.

    • Kay Huether

      Aptly put Mr. Sorre. Now forward your thoughts to every elected official in Delaware. Anyone who thinks this cannot happen in their town is laboring under a delusion brought about by their over indulgence in wishful thinking. We are all sitting ducks and unless our elected officials put safeguards and caps in place to protect us from further financial rape, we will have our wallets ravaged by these sneaky, thieving rip off artists!

  15. FRANK CONLAN

    My taxes went up almost 400.00 this year I have been in Milford area for over 10 years and my taxes only went up about 140.00 over that period. In pa the schools district in Chester county they have a cap of 2.1 % max tax increase in any one year. It sounds like Milford School district pulled a fast one on the Tax payers

    • Kay Huether

      Did you say a fast one? I call my 51% tax increase an example of FINANCIAL RAPE!!! If democratic New Jersey can elect a republican governor to address the out-of-control school boards, and they did, so can we. Have you noticed the silence on this subject by our elected officials? Time to kick them out!

  16. Greg M

    In my mind, this issue does not go away until compromise is made with the people of MIlford. This is a tough issue, however, one that can be solved if we put our minds to it. I believe legislative changes are required to improve our school systems throughout the state. Let’s here a few proposals from our candidates running for Government!

    We need a good leader with forward thinking ideas and one who is not afraid to challenge the status quo.

  17. Kay Huether

    The latest lengthy diatribe issued by the new school superintendent is nothing more than an exercise in passing the buck. It is everybody else’s fault not the school boards. This matter must be placed in the face of anyone running for election. If New Jersey can place a 2% cap on school spending, so can Delaware. Let the people looking to be elected in November know that we demand relief from the arrogant “we don’t need your permission to spend freely using the tuition tax windfall”. Pursuant to the current structure, they don’t. Let’s demand a new structure.

  18. Sean Winter

    I have two properties in Milford. Now, my escrow accounts are both short by $600 each, plus I will be paying an extra$50/month each! I’ve never seen such a dramatic increase in traces and I used to live in NJ! Ridiculous!

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