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District to Host Capital Improvement Referendum
District to Host Capital Improvement Referendum
Posted on 01/16/2020

The Indian River School District will host a major capital improvement referendum on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

The referendum will seek funding for the construction of a new Sussex Central High School. With voter approval, the referendum will result in a maximum possible tax increase of $63.71 for the average district property owner. This increase will be phased in over a three-year period. 

Voting on February 13 is from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. District residents who are U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age are eligible to vote at the following local polling places: East Millsboro Elementary School, Georgetown Elementary School, Indian River High School, Long Neck Elementary School, Lord Baltimore Elementary School and Selbyville Middle School. In the event of inclement weather, the referendum will be held on February 20, 2020.

“Passage of this referendum is absolutely critical to the future of the Indian River School District,” IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele said. “Overcrowding in the northern end of the district is reaching a crisis stage and the construction plan being put before voters is the most equitable solution. The upcoming retirement of previous 20-year bond issues is making it possible to implement property tax increases for only three years to fund the construction of the new high school. The time has never been better for residents to approve this measure, as the district’s economic climate will provide the best possible value for taxpayers.”

The district is scheduled to retire seven construction bonds during the next five years. The resulting adjustments to the debt service tax rate will lessen the impact of the new school construction and present significant savings to district taxpayers.

The new Sussex Central High School will have a capacity of 2,200 students. The new building will be approximately 309,799 square feet and be built on district-owned property next to the existing high school north of Millsboro.

The referendum’s major capital improvement proposal will alleviate overcrowding in the northern end of the district through the construction of only one new school instead of several. In addition to the construction of a new Sussex Central High School, the district plans to renovate and repurpose two existing school buildings. Under the plan, Millsboro Middle School will move into the existing Sussex Central High School building and allow the existing Millsboro Middle School to be converted into an additional elementary school. The proposed new high school will be built on land that is already owned by the school district, creating additional savings to taxpayers.

“If this referendum is not successful, the State of Delaware is unlikely to approve any major capital improvement projects in our district for several years,” Steele said. “This will delay the construction process indefinitely. Meanwhile, overcrowding will worsen and the educational environment in our schools will be adversely affected. We will also have to purchase more outdoor portable classrooms, which are costly and present safety concerns.

“Furthermore, we may be forced to redraw attendance boundaries to shift more students to the southern end of the district. As a result, some students who currently attend schools in northern end will reside in new feeder patterns that will require them to attend schools in the south. Simply put, some students who presently live in the Sussex Central High School feeder pattern may be shifted south into the Indian River High School feeder pattern.”

Additional classroom space is needed to address a large increase in district enrollment during the past eight years. IRSD’s total enrollment is 10,942 students in Grades PreK-12. This represents an increase of 2,071 students since 2011. This increase has put a strain on classroom space at several school buildings. In addition, enrollment growth is projected to continue during the next five years and reach 12,137 students by 2024.

The overcrowding problem is especially severe at Sussex Central High School, where more than 1,800 students are currently housed in a building designed for 1,500. By 2024, the school’s enrollment will be more than 1,950 and the building at 131 percent capacity. In addition to a lack of classroom space, common areas such as the cafeteria, auditorium and hallways are no longer large enough to accommodate the student population. The school could eventually be forced to add more lunch periods, which will result in some students eating lunch earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. Currently, 22 teachers at the facility do not have classrooms and must move from room to room while carrying their belongings on a cart.

The district has already installed outdoor portable classrooms at Sussex Central High School and North Georgetown Elementary School. Sussex Central is currently utilizing 10 portable classrooms and North Georgetown two portable classrooms. Local funds must be used to lease the classrooms, which are costly and create safety and security concerns due to their placement outside of the main school building.

“This referendum will impact the entire Indian River School District, not just the northern schools,” Steele said. “If we are forced to continue adding portable classrooms at overcrowded schools, the annual cost of the units will deplete the district’s operating reserves. As a result, the district would be forced to host a current expense referendum to replenish the operating funds that pay for staffing, services and instructional supplies. All district schools would be impacted by these funding shortages, not just those in the northern end. Furthermore, a current expense tax increase will be permanent and not phased out over time like a debt service tax increase.”

The maximum property tax increase needed to fund the district’s 40-percent local share ($58,437,700) of the Sussex Central High School construction project is 28 cents per $100 of assessed value. However, market factors such as the interest rate on bonds could reduce this amount to about 22 cents. This equates to a tax increase of between $49 and $64 for the average district property owner. (Based on average district property assessment of $22,751.) This increase will be phased in over a three-year period and not reach the maximum until Fiscal Year 2023. After FY23, the debt service rate will decrease every year until construction bonds are retired. The remaining 60 percent ($87,656,300) of the project cost will be funded by the State of Delaware. A tax calculator is available HERE to assist residents in figuring their tax increase. For information about your tax assessment, visit sussexcountyde.gov and click on “Tax Information” at the bottom right. Residents can also contact the Referendum Hotline at (302) 436-1079.

The additional capital improvement projects – relocating Millsboro Middle School to the existing Sussex Central High School building and converting the existing Millsboro Middle School into an additional elementary school – will not require a property tax increase. In addition, attendance areas in Georgetown, Millsboro and Long Neck will be redrawn to alleviate overcrowding.

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 or residency at each polling place. Absentee ballots are available by mail until noon on February 10 and in person until noon on February 12. Affidavits are available at all district schools. For more information, contact the Department of Elections at (302) 856-5367.

For more information about the referendum, contact Indian River’s Referendum Hotline at (302) 436-1079 or visit the district’s special referendum web site at irsd.net/referendum.