Indian River School District session set to address classroom space options

GEORGETOWN — Forced to regroup following another referendum defeat in early May, Indian River School District’s board of education will address enrollment growth and the need for more classroom space at a special June 10 meeting.

The brainstorming session will be held at Sussex Central High School — the school that is most overcrowded and overcapacity.

Portable classrooms and other possible ways to create additional classroom space will likely dot the discussion.

“I think we need a workshop where we can discuss options,” said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele at the board’s May 20 meeting. “We can’t take anything off the table at this stage of the game – nothing. We have to take a look at five years from now where we are going to be.”

By a 4,643-to-4,578 (65 votes), voters May 7 defeated the district’s request for passage of a second major capital improvement referendum this year calling for local debt service tax increase that would supported a new 2,200-student Sussex Central High School, eight additional classrooms at Indian River High School and a four-classroom addition at Selbyville Middle School.

A request in early February, which included a separate current expense increase request that was not included in the May referendum, met defeat by a 3,866-to-3,202 margin.

Mr. Steele called the May 7 referendum defeat a “serious blow to the Indian River School District.”

Only two schools – John M. Clayton Elementary in Frankford and Phillip Showell Elementary in Selbyville – were under 85-percent capacity as of the May 20 board meeting, according to Preston Lewis, IRSD’s Administrator of Student Services.

Showell was at 67 percent; JMC 80.1, said Mr. Lewis, who noted North Georgetown Elementary was 86.9 percent, but will be receiving additional influx of students following the board’s decision regarding the Georgetown Kindergarten Center.

At its Feb. 25 meeting, the Indian River school board voted to restructure kindergarten services in the Georgetown area. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, North Georgetown Elementary School kindergarten students currently served by the Georgetown Kindergarten Center will return to North Georgetown Elementary.

The move will free up classroom space for Georgetown Middle School, which is projected to have a large enrollment increase during the next two years.

Meanwhile, Sussex Central High School, built for 1,500-student capacity, has been well over capacity for several years, amid projections for 1,750 students in 2019-20.

“We have got to start doing something to control what’s at Sussex Central High School,” said Mr. Steele. “Our thought was, anything we can do. We still have seats available at Indian River (High School). Even at 90, 95 percent we still have 50 open seats there where as 112-113-percent capacity for Sussex Central. We are predicting to be 250 over capacity.”

“I know it’s not very popular, but you may want to consider re-drawing some lines (SCHS and Indian River High School),” said board member Jim Fritz.

Capacity of most schools in the district were mid to high 90 percent, Mr. Lewis said.

“It is just going to increase,” Mr. Steele said. “I think we need to start discussing options. We’re going to think out of the box. We are going to have to think outside the box to try to do whatever we can do.”

At the March 25 meeting, the school board voted 9-0 to pursue six portable units equating to a dozen classrooms – eight at Sussex Central High School, and two each at North Georgetown Elementary School and Selbyville Middle School, which was subsequently determined to not be a viable modular option due to parcel space limitation and logistics.

But subdividing the school’s library is. Plans are to transform a portion of the SMS library into two classrooms. Estimated cost would be about $29,000.

Given the district’s overall projected enrollment growth and referendum defeat, more portables will likely be needed.

Mr. Steele at the May board meeting stated 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,” he said.

“Trailers, that is going to help somewhat with some of the classroom space. But it’s not going to help in the hallways, common areas,” said Mr. Steele.

Administrators and board members have noted that portable classrooms present safety and security concerns because they are not part of the main building.

Portable units, which come with a mandated five-year lease, will cost upward of $140,000 for each unit over the course the 60-month lease.

Funding for portables will come for the district’s operating budget through local funding only.

Some help could come from the Cape Henlopen School District, which owns a pair of single-classroom modular units and is offering them at no cost to Indian River. IRSD’s only cost would be to have the modulars moved to the Sussex Central High School site, Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Steele emphasized the board and district need to “decide which way we are going to go in the future. Because folks I am going to tell you the enrollment is going to continue to climb.”

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