District to host major capital improvement, expense referendum

The Indian River School District will host a major capital improvement and current expense referendum on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 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. Residents will also be asked to approve funding for staff, curriculum, supplies, transportation and utility expenses for a high school and elementary school.

With voter approval, the referendum will result in a maximum possible tax increase of $87.55 for the average district property owner.

Voting on Feb. 5, 2019, is from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. District residents who are U.S. citizens and at least 18 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.

The referendum’s major capital improvement proposal is designed to 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. That 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.

District officials said the plan will save taxpayers more than $11 million when compared to the original 2016 major capital improvement proposal, which would have built new elementary and middle schools and renovated the existing Sussex Central High School. The proposed new high school will be built on land that is already owned by the school district, creating additional savings to taxpayers, they noted.

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. That represents an increase of 1,826 students since 2011. The increase has put a strain on classroom space at several school buildings, officials said. In addition, enrollment growth is projected to continue during the next six years and reach 12,473 students by 2024.

IRSD officials said the district will likely have to utilize portable classrooms to relieve overcrowding beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. Local funds must be used to lease the classrooms, which they said are costly and could create safety and security concerns due to their placement outside of the main school building.

The referendum will consist of two separate ballot questions with each requiring a “For” or “Against” vote.

Question 1 – Major Capital Improvements:

The first question will ask residents to approve the construction of a new, 2,200-student Sussex Central High School. 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.

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. The remaining 60 percent ($95,108,565) will be funded by the State of Delaware. The debt service tax increase for the construction projects will be phased in over a four-year period and not reach the maximum of 35 cents until the 2023 fiscal year. After FY23, the debt service rate will decrease every year until the construction bonds are retired.

Construction projects (with local share) are:

• New Sussex Central High School — $56,337,400

• Indian River High School, eight additional classrooms — $5,716,700

• Selbyville Middle School, four additional classrooms — $1,351,300

With referendum approval, the district will undertake a series of additional capital improvement projects that will relieve overcrowding and not require a property tax increase. The existing Sussex Central High School building will be converted into a middle school, with Millsboro Middle School relocating to the renovated facility. The existing Millsboro Middle School building will be converted into an additional elementary school.

Attendance areas in Georgetown, Millsboro and Long Neck will also be redrawn to alleviate overcrowding. These projects will be funded using minor capital improvement funds; therefore, no property tax increase is necessary to complete the renovations and relocations.

Question 2 — Current Expense:

The second referendum question will seek funding for operating expenses for a high school and elementary school. Those include employment costs, curriculum, a discretionary budget and the hiring of support staff for an elementary school. The initiative will also fund additional teachers, utility costs, maintenance supplies and transportation expenses associated with the new Sussex Central High School.

A property tax increase of 9 cents per $100 of assessed value is necessary to fund the initiatives, which are expected to cost $1,488,025.

For the additional elementary school, the district will cover one-time expenses, such as instructional materials, technology, furniture, library books and playgrounds, with state and local funds. A property tax increase will not be necessary for these items.

Combined, the major capital improvement and current expense initiatives will result in a maximum increase of $87.55 on the average district property owner’s tax bill. The maximum debt service increase for the construction projects would be $68.96 in Fiscal Year 2023 and decrease every year thereafter. The additional $18.59 for current expense would be an annual increase.

Indian River School District residents who are U.S. citizens at least 18 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 Feb. 1 and in person until noon on Feb. 4. Affidavits are available at all district schools. For more information, contact the Department of Elections at (302) 856-5367.

In the event of inclement weather, the referendum will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019.

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.