The Indian River School District has seen better times. While the embattled district faces an upcoming referendum in November, they must also contend with a huge influx of new students, a discrimination lawsuit, a budget that cannot handle itself, and an audit coming out this month from the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Hopefully the last will answer the question of what their former Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller was up to. As I reported last month, sources contacted me under anonymity that Miller somehow absconded with millions of dollars in his time as CFO of the district.
Coastal Point reported on September 23rd that Indian River is not the only school district under review by the state Auditor’s office. But, as usual, they are not ponying up any details. I get that, but at the same time it gives them the capability of making things disappear when things get too hot in the kitchen, like the charter school petty cash audit.
“We like doing these things quietly (and make the announcement) when we’re done and we have a report for the public, so there’s not speculation out there,” Wagner said. “People get into wild speculations, and we try to avoid all that.”
On November 22nd, the district will attempt an operating expense referendum, as detailed on their website:
The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The measure will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. The average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.
But Coastal Point indicates this may not be the only referendum the school will ask for this school year:
More students means less space for each, so IRSD is working with the Department of Education to potentially build new schools and classrooms. That could possibly mean another referendum in the spring of 2017, for major capital improvement (to build new schools) and current expenses (if more money is needed for continuing costs).
Taxpayers in the district, especially elderly ones, are not going to like the proposition of two tax increases in less than a year. In the Coastal Point article, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner indicated the investigative audit against Indian River School District will most likely be released to the district first for them to review. After that it will be released to the public. Will it come out before the November 22nd referendum? That could be important for many reasons. If the audit comes back finding something bad, and it comes out before the referendum, that could cause voters to vote no. If it comes out after, taxpayers will say they felt cheated. As well, a post-referendum release could assure a failure of the potential 2nd referendum vote next spring.
The district was very clear about the ramifications of a failed referendum on November 22nd:
If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, further discretionary budget cuts, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials.
But financial issues are not the only crisis in the district. There is also the matter of what happened earlier this week. On Tuesday, October 4th, it was publicly announced the Coalition for Education Reform filed a federal lawsuit against Indian River. Their allegations claim the district sent a disproportionate number of African-American students to an alternative special education school called the George Washington Carver Academy. According to Randall Chase with WDEL 101.7FM:
The Coalition for Education Reform claimed that the district is using the George Washington Carver Academy, a special education school, as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students branded as “troublemakers.” The group says black students are being removed from mainstream schools and sent to Carver in disproportionate numbers on flimsy pretexts and for arbitrary periods of time, while their educational needs are neglected.
As a parent of a special needs child, I can’t even begin to express how much this concerns me. Shuffling off any students to different schools over discipline issues has become the quick Band-Aid for many Delaware school districts. And some charter schools either expel the student or counsel them out. While a federal lawsuit may not play out for a long time, I have to wonder if the district knew this was coming and is beginning to look at this in future budgets should they lose.
It looks like the Christina School District is not the only district in the state facing an avalanche of issues all at once.