Christiana graduation

Christina School Board President Meredith Griffin addresses Christiana High School graduates in June. Last week, the school board voted to raise taxes.

The Christina School Board approved a modest tax hike for fiscal year 2020 last week.

In a 4-0 vote, with two board members absent and one vacant seat, the board approved an increase of 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The board is required to vote on the tax rate – formally called a tax warrant – each July.

The average homeowner will see an increase of $21.84, according to Robert Silber, chief financial officer for the district

The total school tax will be $2.49 per $100 of assessed value.

While the operating tax rate – which can only be changed with a referendum vote – gets the most attention and makes up the bulk of the school tax, the tax rate also includes smaller components, some of which can be set by the board.

“It’s a confusing issue for our taxpayers, because when we get our tax bills, it only says Christina School District,” Silber explained to board members July 9.

Tuition tax is set by the board annually based on the expected needs of the student body, specifically the needs of students considered “intensive or complex.” The match tax is set by the school board to establish a rate that assures sufficient funds to match specific state allocations.

This year, the board increased the tuition tax by 4 cents, bringing it to a total of 62 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The largest chunk of the tuition tax – $16.8 million – goes to specialty programs in the district, like Delaware School for the Deaf, the Delaware Autism Program and the REACH program.

The second-largest portion, $15 million, goes to Christina’s bilingual program, Sarah Pyle Academy and and other assistance for the intense and complex student populations. Meanwhile, $2.2 million goes to other districts and private placement.

Earlier this year, Christina’s operating referendum, which would have raised the average tax bill $217 over three years, failed.

“I should mention that regardless of whether or not there had been a successful referendum, I would still have been before you this evening saying we still need to raise tuition tax by 4 cents, because these are not local operating funds,” Silber told the board last week.

Silber said the increased tax rate for tuition tax will generate about $2.2 million.

Meanwhile, the district also recommended lowering the match tax by half a cent.

“It’s probably one of the most confusing ones because it entails a number of different funding purposes,” Silber said.

Because of the support the district will be getting from the Student Success Block Grant, which provides funding for schools with a high concentration of English language learners and students from low-income homes, and opportunity funding, which provides support for low-income students and English language learners, the district does not have to match the state’s allocations fully, Silber said.

“We could collect too much money and then that’s a disservice to our community,” he said. “So in evaluating what do we need to do for this particular year, we’d taken a look at it and we were able to squeeze out that half cent. We will try to reduce taxes whenever we can.”

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