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September 5, 2006     Cape Gazette
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September 5, 2006
 

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T Disclosure needed to boost public confidence Cape referendum task force issues report By Georgia Leonhart Special to the Cape Gazette Undue influence over school districts by financial contributors; undue influence over voters by school districts; and a home field advantage were addressed by the School District Referendum Task Force at its Tuesday, July 27, meeting held at Legislative Hall in Dover. "This is not just about the Cape Henlopen School District and the problems it encountered with its last referendum," said task force chairman Rep. Joseph Booth, R, Georgetown. "Our mission is to increase public trust and confi- dence in the referendum process statewide," he said, adding that the Cape Henlopen situation just provides one of many examples of things that can go wrong that have arisen in different jurisdic- tions. "The issue is to prevent undue pressure on our districts by out- side forces," said the bill's co- sponsor, Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf, D, Rehoboth Beach. From Rehoboth Beach, where a taxpayer group has accused the school district of accepting major contributions from one or more companies to which it awarded $84 million in contracts, Schwartzkopf said that to this day he knows of citizens who have lost faith and trust in the school district. "They still don't know what really happened and disclosure could have pre- vented it," Schwartzkopf said. The majority of task force members agreed that the voting process is a political process - one that is very hard for the school districts to win and that requires outside funding. "It's like having one candidate running for office and his or her platform is, 'If you vote for me I'm going to raise your taxes!'" said Keith Brady from the Attorney General's office. "Soliciting funds is a necessary part of any effective campaign," said Booth. "But like any other campaign, it should be subject to limits and disclosure require- ments," he added. Undue influence by school dis- tricts was the next major issue addressed. "When does induce- ment cross the line into undue influence or bribery?" asked Brady. He spoke of the "pizza party incident," when the Cape Henlopen School District prom- ised a pizza party to the school that bad the greatest turnout of parents to vote on its referendum. Using a pizza party to induce voter turnout was not the prob- lem, Brady said. "The problem is that it was linked and included with a pro- motion asking people to vote for the referendum. You may induce voter turnout, but you can't appear to be inducing the vote," Brady said. School polling sites prevailed despite an appearance of a home field advantage with the consen- sus being that convenience, loca- tion, ease of access and consisten- cy were important. Russell Knorr of the Delaware Association of School Administrators said that the districts need every advantage "It's an uphill battle already - it's a political campaign." Timing of elections, and the possibility of transferring actual taxing authority to the districts to avoid certain referendums are being considered as possible ways to boost public confidence in the referendum system. If you give the school board the taxing authority and limit its terms, you can vote them out if it doesn't work, Knorr said. "I would consider legislation that could avoid seemingly unnecessary referendums by giv- ing the school boards the option of proceeding without referen- dums in certain circumstances," said Booth. Discussion will continue at the next referendum task force meet- ing that is tentatively set for noon, Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Legislative Hall. Ensuring that money gener- ated by referendums is used for its stated purpose will be addressed. It is expected that legislation gov- erning school district referendums will be proposed based on the task force's findings. John Brady to meet with MOAA members The Southern Delaware chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) will meet at 11:45 a.m., Sept. 19, at La Rosa Negra Restaurant in Lewes. John Brady, Recorder of Deeds for Sussex County, will be the guest speaker. The organization will meet this year on Oct. 17,Nov. 21, Jan. 16, Feb. 20, March 20, April 17 and May 15. No meeting will be held in December. The cost of the Sept. 19 buffet luncheon is $12, which includes gra- tuity. Reservations are not required. CAPE  Tuesday, September 5. Thursday, Septemir 7,2006.9 NO MONEY DOWN. MORTGAGES! 100% - Stated Income/Stated Assets on primary, 2nd homes, YES, EVEN INVESTMENT 100% LTV Products to $1,400,000 Other programs up to $8,000,000 Rates as low as 1%...Invest Your Savings ...... 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Call 422-4934 to reserve a seat or contact any auxiliary member.