The Indian River School District’s major capital improvement referendum was defeated by district residents on Tuesday, May 7. The official vote totals are as follows:

FOR: 4,578

AGAINST: 4,643

“The defeat of the referendum is a serious blow to the Indian River School District,” Superintendent Mark Steele said. “We are faced with an anticipated enrollment growth of more than 1,700 students in the next six years and there is no guarantee the State of Delaware will approve funding for these construction projects in the future. As a result, we may not be able to host another major capital improvement referendum for several years. The district has no choice but to utilize portable classrooms to alleviate overcrowding in our schools. We project the need for about 22 portables across the district in the next five years. The cost of portable classrooms is astronomical and these units must be funded through our operating budget. This will likely necessitate the need for a current expense referendum sooner than we expected. However, the district respects the democratic process and will examine all possible options to keep our students safe and provide them with the best learning environment possible.” 

The referendum sought funding for the construction of a new Sussex Central High School, an eight-classroom addition at Indian River High School and a four-classroom addition at Selbyville Middle School.   

 to watch our informational videos about the referendum.

to listen to an IRSD Spotlight podcast episode about the referendum and overcrowding at Sussex Central High School.

The Indian River School District will host a major capital improvement referendum on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

The referendum will seek funding for the construction of a new Sussex Central High School, an eight-classroom addition at Indian River High School and a four-classroom addition at Selbyville Middle School. With voter approval, the referendum will result in a maximum possible tax increase of $68.96 for the average district property owner. This increase will be phased in over a four-year period. 

Voting on May 7 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.

“This is an extremely important referendum for the Indian River School District,” IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele said. “Enrollment increases during the past eight years have put several schools at or over their building capacities. With this rate of growth projected to continue, overcrowding problems at these buildings will only worsen. We believe the proposal being put forth in the referendum is the most equitable solution to our overcrowding issues and will save taxpayers millions of dollars over previous proposals considered by the Board of Education.”  

SCHS shuffleThe referendum’s major capital improvement proposal will alleviate overcrowding across 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. This will allow Millsboro Middle School to move into the existing Sussex Central High School building and allow the existing Millsboro Middle School to be converted into an 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.

Above: A crowded hallway at Sussex Central High School during a change of classes. 

The new Sussex Central High School will have a 2,200-student capacity. 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. In addition, the district is seeking to add eight new classrooms at Indian River High School and four new classrooms at Selbyville Middle School.

“Our district has reached a crossroads where we can no longer rely on short-term solutions to solve our space shortages,” Steele said. “Approval of the referendum will alleviate overcrowding in the northern portion of the district while preventing it from becoming a problem in the southern end.”

Additional classroom space is needed to address a large increase in the district’s total enrollment during the past eight years. IRSD’s current enrollment is 10,697 students in Grades PreK-12. This represents an increase of 1,826 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 six years and reach 12,473 students by 2024.

FACT: The University of Delaware Unified School District Enrollment Projections (2005–2030) predicted the Indian River School District student enrollment would reach 10,957 students in the 2025 school year. IRSD student enrollment reached 10,910 students on March 28, 2019.

FACT: According to the 2018 Report on State Planning Issues, Millsboro ranks No. 1 out of the 25 Sussex County cities for number of residential building permits issued - a leading indicator of population growth. This is especially noteworthy given that Sussex County is the fastest-growing county in the State of Delaware.

The overcrowding problem is especially severe at Sussex Central High School, where nearly 1,700 students are currently housed in a building designed for 1,500. By 2024, the school’s enrollment will be more than 1,900. 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 possessions on a cart.

CLICK HERE to view a photo gallery of overcrowding in IRSD schools.

The district will have to utilize portable classrooms to relieve overcrowding at several schools, including Sussex Central, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. Local funds must be used to lease the classrooms, which are costly and could create safety and security concerns due to their placement outside of the main school building.

The maximum property tax increase needed to fund the district’s 40-percent local share ($63,405,400) of the construction projects is 35 cents per $100 of assessed value. This equates to a tax increase of $68.96 for the average district property owner. This increase will be phased in over a four-year period and not reach the maximum until Fiscal Year 2023. After FY23, the debt service rate will decrease every year until the construction bonds are retired. The remaining 60 percent ($95,108,565) of the project costs will be funded by the State of Delaware.

Construction projects (with local share) are as follows:

  • New Sussex Central High School – $56,337,400
  • Indian River High School, 8 additional classrooms – $5,716,700
  • Selbyville Middle School, 4 additional classrooms – $1,351,300

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.

The district has chosen not to seek a separate current expense tax increase for operating costs for a high school and elementary school. The removal of the proposed 9-cent property tax rate increase from the failed February 5, 2019 referendum package will save taxpayers $18.59 per year.

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 May 3 and in person until noon on May 6. 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