With some of its schools completely over their enrollment capacity, the Indian River School District is trying to nail down a system for school choice.
On Aug. 28, for the first time in months, the Board of Education approved a number of school-choice recommendations, after only a few minutes of discussion.
But much behind-the-scenes work had gone into this batch of recommendations. First of all, Board President Charles Bireley had pre-approved the approvals and rejections, based on school principals’ recommendations, because families needed time to prepare for the school year.
Earlier this month, district staff and administrators met to study school capacity. They said they felt 90 percent school capacity is a good threshold for deciding whether to continue accepting applications for school choice. Principals would still have the discretion to invite more students, building up their population numbers while maintaining some wiggle room.
The IRSD has just begun the busy time for enrollment. As of Aug. 28, school capacities were: East Millsboro Elementary School (99 percent full), Georgetown Elementary School (86), Georgetown Kindergarten Center (88), Georgetown Middle School (89), Indian River High School (96), Long Neck Elementary School (96), John M. Clayton Elementary School (84), Lord Baltimore Elementary School (90), Millsboro Middle School (90), North Georgetown Elementary School (88), Phillip C. Showell Elementary School (69), Selbyville Middle School (103), Southern Delaware School of the Arts (83) and Sussex Central High School (109).
Most school districts are using an online application system for school-choice applications. The IRSD board got a demonstration of the Data Service Center — a free program that could help process the district’s more than 700 annual applications.
School boards still have final say in who is accepted and how requirements are weighted, but the system keeps everything organized. Moreover, if the Delaware State Legislature passes House Bill 269, it would streamline school choice statewide and require all districts to use www.schoolchoicede.org.
Also on Aug. 28, the school board approved the $151 million preliminary budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Final budgets will be approved in October, after the official Sept. 30 unit count, upon which most state funding is based.
Although some budgets are tight this year, the administration is determined to rebuild a $15 million reserve in the next three years, so $5 million will be stuck in savings.
The IRSD still has to give back $2 million to the State because of state budget shortfalls. They’ve only figured out how to repay $800,000 thus far. The Howard T. Ennis School also specifically has to repay about $140,000.
Business Director Jan Steele said the IRSD’s 6 percent revenue increase mostly results from the recent referendum, in which voters approved a 49-cent increase per $100 of assessed property value. The IRSD board also raised other rates, including tuition (for special-educational services) and minor capital funds (which must react to the state changes). However, the IRSD board lowered the debt-service tax, because district debt payments are decreasing.
Although the fiscal year began July 1, the district asked schools to wait before buying school supplies. They were allowed to purchase the bare minimum this month, then the rest of classroom materials once tax deposits come in October.
The draft budget is online at www.boarddocs.com/de/irsd/Board.nsf/Public. (Select “Aug. 28, 2017,” then select item 8.05 “FY 2018 Budget.” The document includes a glossary of terms.
In other IRSD news:
• In an unusual circumstance, the school board decided not to sponsor a student’s trip to FFA national competition. This spring, as an eighth-grader in the IRSD, the student won the state-level competition, but she will have transferred outside of the district, to Sussex Technical High School, by the time of nationals in October. The Department of Education does not require the IRSD to sponsor or chaperone her, so the school board opted not to, over liability concerns.
That decision raised the issue of high-schoolers who graduate but return the following fall to compete in nationals, although they’re no longer enrolled in IRSD schools. Superintendent Mark Steele suggested the district create a policy for such situations.
• With support from local state legislators, the IRSD was given permission to pursue a different plot of land for a new Howard T. Ennis School. Although the IRSD had investigated a triangular lot along the Avenue of Honor in north Millsboro, they preferred a nearby rectangular plot, directly across Patriots Way from Sussex Central High School.
This month, the State reassured district officials that they wouldn’t have to re-submit all of their paperwork to pursue a different lot. So the Certificate of Necessity will remain binding for another year, and IRSD just needs state agencies to vet the land. Results should be announced in October.
Funding is completely up to the State, since Ennis is a special state-funded school managed by IRSD.
• Students will pay the same prices for school meals this year as last, including $1 for elementary lunches; $1.10 for middle and high school lunches; 60 cents for breakfast platters; 40 cents for reduced-price lunch and 30 cents for reduced-price breakfast. Some adult prices have increased.
• The school board approved installation of a small weather-monitoring station on Indian River High School grounds. It would be one of 57 stations in the Delaware Environmental Observing System. The small pole and system will only take up a few square feet, and DEOS can use the data (collected every five minutes) for statewide transportation services and school lesson plans.
• Mountaire Farms Inc. donated $10,000 to Project VILLAGE, which serves some of the highest-needs preschoolers in the district.
The IRSD Board of Education’s next meeting is Monday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. at Indian River High School. Committee meetings are set for Monday, Sept. 11, at the Indian River Education Complex in Selbyville: Policy at 4 p.m.; Curriculum at 5 p.m.; Buildings and Grounds at 6 p.m.; Finance at 7:30 p.m. The Citizens Budget Oversight Committee will meet Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m. at the IREC in Selbyville.
The first day of school for students will be Tuesday, Sept. 5.