Indian River School District referendum set for Tuesday
‘Our buildings are bulging,’ Bunting says
The time has come for area residents to make a decision about the future of Indian River School District. On Tuesday, Jan. 29, the district will host a major capital improvement and current expense referendum, which seeks funding for 38 additional classrooms, new teachers and supplies, to manage the rapid recent increase in district enrollment.
The current IRSD enrollment is 9,147 students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. For the 2012-2013 school year, enrollment increased by 273 students. From the 2006-2007 school year to now, the district has grown by 1,262 students and 121 teachers. That increase has put a strain on classroom space and led to staffing shortages in several district schools.
Most of the growth has been seen in the Georgetown and Long Neck area, but Selbyville schools are also getting rather tight. According to Assistant Superintendent Gary Brittingham, these numbers far exceed the original enrollment projections for IRSD, surprising all involved.
“Our buildings are bulging, and we’re appealing to the public for more space,” said Superintendent Susan Bunting.
Some teachers are reduced to pushing carts of supplies to their classrooms. During some teacher planning periods, another class comes in to use the otherwise quiet classroom.
The referendum will propose a property tax increase of 14.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which is not the same as the property’s market value, as properties in Sussex County have not been reassessed at current market value. That 14.7-cent increase will equate to an annual tax increase of $38.05 for the average district property owner.
A successful referendum would help the IRSD to build four classrooms at Phillip C. Showell Elementary, two classrooms at Selbyville Middle and eight each at Long Neck, North Georgetown and East Millsboro elementary schools, as well as the Georgetown Elementary/Middle School Complex (which would also get a new kitchen).
Voters residing in the district can answer two questions in the referendum, voting for or against each. The first would allow the IRSD and State of Delaware to sell bonds (or borrow money) to fund the $11,011,000 project. The state funds 60 percent ($6,606,600), while Indian River is responsible for 40 percent ($4,404,400).
The second question involves a tax increase to pay the related bills. The district is requesting an additional 11.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That money would fund the additional resources going into those new classrooms, including furniture, technology, supplies, utilities, additional staff and programs that use the space, from summer school to advanced academics.
The referendum consists of two separate ballot questions with each allowing a “For” or “Against” vote. IRSD officials said they people will vote “For” both of the ballot questions.
Question 1 is Major Capital Improvements, or borrowing money to build the addition, which will result in a temporary tax increase. Question 2 is Current Expense, or continuing to fund everything permanently within the new classrooms. That includes new teacher salaries, supplies, technology, furniture and the increase in fuel and utilities. IRSD is required by law to request, via referendum, any changes to the tax rate. According to Bunting, IR residents already pay — and would continue to pay — a rate lower than any other school tax district in Sussex County.
According to the IRSD, the average property tax assessment in the Indian River School District is $25,887, as of November 2012. It is upon that sort of assessment property owners would pay 14.7 cents additional per $100 of value.
The total average increase would be $38.05 in the first year.
Separately, Question 1 would increase the rate paid by an average $8.28 maximum the first year. As IR repays the loan, the interest will decrease, and that payment will decrease, for the next 20 years. Question 2’s proposed rate increase is an average $29.77 per year, a number that will not decrease because the costs of salary, supplies and fuel will continue.
Under those figures, the referendum’s total proposed property tax increase is 14.7 cents per $100 of assessed value. With the average tax assessment at $25,887, the average district property owner could expect an increase of $38.05 in his or her annual tax bill.
Taxpayers are being encouraged to see exactly what their rates are, online at www.sussexcountyde.gov. They can multiply the current property assessment by .147 to see the overall increase in expense. Call the Sussex County Treasury Division for more information, at (302) 855-7760.
New programs include full-day kindergarten
Filling staff positions at a cost of approximately $1.15 million would keep class sizes at a desirable level. It may also provide staffing for programs, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), International Baccalaureate, AVID, summer school and full-day kindergarten. Summer school would save regular class time, officials said, in that it would help children who might otherwise receive little mental stimulus during summer vacation. The programs, they said, can make IR more competitive with private, charter and vo-tech schools.
The referendum idea first began a year ago, with discussions of full-day kindergarten. Despite the Delaware state mandate to offer full-day kindergarten, Indian River is currently the only district in the state not offering full-day kindergarten, having received waivers in the past because it was still finishing other capital projects.
Although school board members have continued debating the importance of full-day kindergarten, Bunting said, “We’ll be ready for full-day kindergarten, and our board has told us if this passes, we will have full-day kindergarten.”
“We don’t want to mislead anyone, and full-day kindergarten is one of the options,” IRSD Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller said.
Under the state mandate, districts must offer parents the options of half-day and full-day classes. Bunting said IRSD’s half-day kindergarteners currently receive 500 fewer hours of class time than children in other districts, all of which have complied with the mandate.
Next year, IR will need 20 more teachers for regular growth, plus 25 more teachers for kindergarten.
IRSD must also chip in for transportation. The state recently asked that districts pay 10 percent of busing costs, so the local cost is currently $700,000 per year. IRSD is aiming to add bus routes, not bus drivers. Buses are already doing multiple trips to large neighborhoods each day, officials said.
Outfitting each classroom would cost $12,000, for a total of $456,000. Fuel cost is estimated at $204,000.
Planning for the future
Construction would take 15 to 18 months per school. IRSD had applied to build a new northern middle school, which is probably still needed in the future, officials said. However, the State only approved the 38 new classrooms for this year, which is considered the most cost-effective plan at present.
Sussex Central High School’s enrollment is currently at 1,200 of its 1,500 capacity. The new Indian River High School was also built to anticipate more students in the future. Bunting said IR set a Delaware precedent, as schools were rarely built with “wiggle room” to grow.
The district is not in favor of portable classrooms, for safety reasons. They aimed to eliminate such classrooms when the new high schools were completed in 2005 and 2006.
For more information on schools or tax increases from Indian River School District, call the referendum hotline at (302) 436-1079, or visit www.irsd.net/pages/Indian_River_School_District.
Voting is Tuesday, Jan. 29, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. District residents need not be registered to vote, but they must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old. They should bring proof of identity and residency. The following polling places will be open: East Millsboro Elementary, Georgetown Elementary, Indian River High, Long Neck Elementary, Lord Baltimore Elementary and Selbyville Middle schools.
Contact the Sussex County Department of Elections at (302) 856-5367 or electionssc.delaware.gov for more information on the voting. Absentee voting may occur at the DoE, in person, until Jan. 28 at noon.