District to host current-expense referendum on May 22

On Thursday, May 22, the Indian River School District will host a current-expense referendum for the purpose of generating additional local funding for operating expenses, salaries and the implementation of full-day kindergarten.

Voting will take place from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. District residents who are at least 18 years of age are eligible to vote at the following local polling places: Georgetown Elementary School, Indian River High School, Long Neck Elementary School, Lord Baltimore Elementary School, Millsboro Middle School and Selbyville Middle School.

The referendum will consist of three separate ballot questions that each require a “For” or “Against” vote.

• Question 1 – Operating Initiatives:

The first part of the current expense referendum will seek funding for a package of operating initiatives that includes the restoration of school budgets, a district-wide textbook adoption, middle- and high-school extra-curricular program upgrades, technology improvements, additional school resource officers and other transportation expenditures.

A property tax increase of 22.42 cents per $100 of assessed value is necessary to fund these initiatives, which will cost approximately $2.8 million, officials said.

In a cost-cutting measure for the 2003 fiscal year, the annual budgets of all 14 district schools were reduced by 11 percent. If approved, the referendum will allow those budgets to be restored to pre-2003 levels.

The district is also seeking funding for the purchase of new textbooks. This initiative will provide district schools with updated textbooks in math, science, social studies, English/language arts and world languages.

Middle- and high-school extra-curricular programs would also receive an infusion of funding. At the middle-school level, the tax increase will pay for athletic program upgrades and operating costs for schools in Georgetown, Millsboro and Selbyville.
These upgrades include athletic field maintenance and irrigation. At the high-school level, referendum funding will be used for an athletic uniform replacement reserve, a band uniform replacement reserve, athletic field maintenance and athletic transportation expenses.

In the area of technology, the referendum will allow for the implementation of a five-year computer replacement plan. It will also fund computer maintenance, school Web site and server upgrades, instructional software and hardware and various distance learning initiatives.

Two Delaware state troopers currently serve the entire district as school resource officers. Passage of the referendum will allow the district to hire additional community-based SROs to serve elementary and middle schools in Georgetown, Millsboro and Selbyville.

These officers will likely be from municipal police departments. This measure will enhance safety and security in all district schools while freeing up federal funding for the possible restoration of school climate positions, officials said.

The final component of the package will provide additional transportation funding for summer school, after-school programs and curricular-connected events.

• Question 2 – Salaries:

The second question will seek approval for a local salary increase for district teachers and staff.

District salaries have fallen dramatically behind neighboring school districts in recent years, officials said. Indian River’s starting teacher salaries currently rank eighth out of the nine Sussex County school districts.

The lack of a competitive salary scale has made it difficult for the district to recruit and retain qualified staff, they noted. “A salary increase is necessary to attract qualified candidates for all employee groups. It will also allow the district to continue providing top-quality instruction to its students.”

The property tax increase needed to fund this initiative is 4.71 cents per $100 of assessed value in year one and an additional 4.92 cents in year two.

• Question 3 – Full-Day Kindergarten:

The third question will seek funding for the implementation of full-day kindergarten, which has been mandated by the State of Delaware.

To date, Indian River is one of the last districts in Delaware not to have full-day kindergarten programs in all of its elementary schools. The district has applied for a waiver from the mandate for the 2008-2009 school year.

The implementation of full-day kindergarten will require the district to hire additional classroom teachers and purchase additional instructional supplies. A tax increase of 2.58 cents per $100 of assessed value is needed to raise the district’s $326,746 share of this initiative.

The benefits of full-day kindergarten include more time for quality instruction in the core subject areas of reading, math and writing; increased individual and small group interaction; additional screening and assessment opportunities to address individual student needs and greater continuity of day-to-day activities. The program will also help children bridge the gap between home and first grade and prepare them to read on grade level by the end of third grade.

The law mandating full-day kindergarten was based on a 2005 University of Delaware study that found students in full-day programs to have stronger literacy skills than those in part-day programs.

The study also concluded that full-day students achieved most academic performance standards more often than part-day students. In addition, the full-day option was preferred by 98 percent of parents with children in full-day programs and 72 percent of parents with children in part-day programs. Teachers also believe that full-day kindergarten better prepares children for first grade, officials said.

The referendum’s total proposed property tax increase of 34.63 cents per $100 of assessed value will be phased in over a two-year period. Rates will increase by 29.71 cents in year one and by an additional 4.92 cents in year two. The average district property owner can expect a tax increase of $74.19 in year one and an additional $12.29 in year two.

Indian River School District residents who are U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age are eligible to vote in the referendum. Voter registration is not required but residents must provide proof of identification at each polling place.

Absentee ballots are available by mail until May 16 and in person until noon on May 21. Affidavits are available at all district schools. For more information, contact the Department of Elections at (302) 856-5367.

Residents who would like additional information about the current expense initiatives should contact the district’s Referendum Hotline at (302) 436-1079.