School board gets good news on school construction

Date Published: 
May 2, 2014

After some delay and “jumping through hoops” to get various permits, the Indian River School District made some concrete progress this month. More than a year since the February 2013 referendum was approved, the IRSD finally opened bids this month to find itself $49,000 under budget to renovate three school buildings.

“This is kind of a happy day for us,” said John Eckrich, supervisor of transportation and buildings and grounds for the district, at the April 29 school board meeting.

With a $5.76 million budget for Long Neck, North Georgetown and East Millsboro elementary schools, IRSD received around 150 individual bids for various trades, including masonry and roofing. The low bid determined the winner.

Administrators were concerned when Long Neck’s bid totaled $2.08 million (about $176,000 over budget), although North Georgetown was only $1.79 million ($95,000 less than expected).

But on Tuesday morning, East Millsboro’s low bid was revealed to be $1.84 million (about $130,000 under budget).

“What consideration has been given to this point to change-orders?” asked Board Member Shaun Fink.

“We typically carry 5 percent going into projects, as a contingency for unforeseen stuff,” said Brad Cowen, construction manager for EDiS (which years ago built Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School and was again hired for construction management on the three new projects).

In addition, the IRSD, EDiS and Becker Morgan company must approve any change orders.

Board Member Rodney Layfield said he was pleased to hear progress, as “We’ve been jumping through hoops for some time.”

The board voted unanimously (with Donald Hattier absent) to approve these bids, totaling $5,712,950, which includes eight additional classrooms at each of the schools and DelDOT improvements detailed in base bid documents.

Building will start after this school year ends, around June 16. There are still building permits and other permissions needed at the town, county and state level.

The three projects will complete Phase 1 of planned school renovations. Phase 2 will include bidding in fall for Phillip Showell Elementary, Selbyville Middle and Georgetown Elementary schools, around Thanksgiving.

Potential for more

federal funding

“Indian River has the opportunity to acquire some leftover Race to the Top funding,” reported Superintendent Susan Bunting this week.

The IRSD has an eye on two opportunities: the money it was promised and more from the same pot. Because grant money works on a different schedule than the district’s fiscal year, IRSD usually submits proof that it needs to access its existing funds until fall.

“This is just a draft that had to be submitted,” said IRSD’s LouAnn Hudson. “It gives us permission to utilize money that we already have in our district … ‘old money.’”

However, as Delaware Race to the Top money comes to an end, there may be additional funds up for grab, allotted from the federal government to the Delaware Department of Education.

“Luckily for us, they decided not to spend it at the state level” and instead send it to the students, Hudson said.

That could mean continued federal funding for International Baccalaureate, STEM, AVID, credit recovery (summer school), staff training and other programs that IRSD began or enhanced with grant money.

“We really think those things … keep us out in front” as a district, Hudson said.

Otherwise, part of the 2013 referendum included local money to pay for these programs.

“Delaware was the first state … and they really want to see great things happen,” IRSD’s Sandy Smith said.

Staff only had a few weeks to submit a draft proposal to the State. They do not know when to expect a response, much less any funding. That will depend, in part, on how many districts apply.

“We had to turn in draft plan last Friday, based on $200,000. If we get additional monies,” Smith said, they would submit another plan. “They have alluded to the fact that there is potential money after that.”

In other school district news:

• As the district works to make constables of the 14 school safety monitors, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller presented some updated costs. All 14 need additional Delaware State Police fingerprinting at $69, constable testing at $75 and badges for $60, and eight still need MMPI personality/psychological tests at $300 apiece, totaling $5,031.

“What we’ve done is provide the most up-to-date training that can be provided to our campus monitors. They are now compliant with Delaware law” to become constables, although IRSD would not grant them arrest powers, Layfield said.

Although other Delaware schools have constables, Layfield said the IRSD is planning the broadest program.

• “Every year, school board members — while Delaware code says you have to have one meeting a month, that’s not what happens in a school board member’s life. These are people who volunteered and asked to be elected to do this,” said Susan Francis from the Delaware School Boards Association (DSBA). From committee meetings to state activities, training and lobbying, she said, there’s “an awful lot of time that goes into being a school board member that no one sees.”

The DSBA Boardsmanship program, for board activities and additional training, honored Nina Lou Bunting (Certificate of Excellence for 250-plus hours in five years), Doug Hudson (Certificate of Distinction) and Charles Bireley (Certificate of Boardsmanship).

She also encouraged board members to persuade public legislators to support public education.

• The board unanimously agreed to submit a letter detailing costs of a heating and air system for a school and pool, natural gas retrofitting and new handicapped-accessible playground equipment. “We got additional research, and this is now proposed to be introduced in the Governor’s Bond Bill, said Miller. “This is proposal is not associated with the gasoline tax at all. It’s to be included in bond bill request from the General Assembly, with support of the [Governor’s] Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.”

• Sussex Central High School Principal Jay Owens was named Delaware Library Administrator of the Year for his support of the school library’s makeover from a little-used space to a welcoming hub. “I’m proud to win this award, but it really is a testament to Ms. [Kelley] DeLeon and the kids that have rejuvenated that part of the school.”

• U.S. News & World Report’s Best High Schools list gave Sussex Central High School its third consecutive Delaware Bronze Award.

• The board unanimously approved a Delaware Department of Transportation proposal for temporary construction easements to build a sidewalk, turn lanes and shoulder on Patriots Way. DelDOT would use about 5 acres of SCHS land at the price of $45,210, which IRSD’s John Eckrich said “appears to go right back to the State” anyway.

Layfield said he was “fine with it,” but found it off that DelDOT had requested a sidewalk that no one may use.

That has been protocol at other IRSD schools under construction; while approving permits, the State uses that opportunity to make its own road or utility improvements.

• A Financial Position Report shows that IRSD has about $18 million in local funds to meet expenses through October, which is “well above state thresholds,” Miller said. The local funds keep the district running as state budgets are developed.

• The board recognized SCHS students as First Team All-State in girls’ basketball, Academic All Conference, All-State Women’s Chorus and All-State Mixed Chorus and County Band first chair. Honors were given to Central’s Ron Dukes, Henlopen Conference, and Delaware Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year, as well as Long Neck’s Cathy Showell as Delaware’s Elementary School Counselor of the Year.

• State FFA winners from Sussex Central held a brief meeting, in which officers debated an agriculture safety day.

• The IRHS Band and Chorus Concert was rescheduled from May 5 to May 20, 2014. The SDSA 8th Grade Graduation Ceremony was moved to June 9.

• The board unanimously approved an updated Policy JG-Student Discipline, which consolidates multiple policies into one document.

Committee meetings are planned at the IRSD Education Center in Selbyville on Monday, May 12: Curriculum at 3:15 p.m.; Policy at 4:30 p.m.; Buildings & Grounds at 6 p.m.; and Finance at 7 p.m.

The next School Board meeting is Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at Indian River High School.