Indian River district adds third public meeting to push major cap referendum

LONG NECK — In its second attempt to win voter approval the Indian River School District has added a third public meeting to push the major capital improvement referendum slated for Tuesday, May 7.

That public informational meeting will be held Wednesday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Long Neck Elementary School. District officials will give a presentation outlining the referendum initiatives. The public is invited and will have the opportunity to ask questions.

IRSD will also host a Facebook Live session on Thursday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. on the IRSD Facebook page (Indian River School District – Delaware). Superintendent Mark Steele will explain the referendum and viewers will have the opportunity to submit questions.

The referendum, geared to address overcrowding and space issues in many schools due to increasing enrollment, seeks funding for construction of a new 2,200-student Sussex Central High School, an eight-classroom addition at Indian River High School and four additional classrooms at Selbyville Middle School.

In turn, the district plans to convert existing SCHS into a middle school that would enable Millsboro Middle School to be utilized as another elementary school.

The state of Delaware would cover 60 percent of the $158.1 million major capital project. The district’s 40-percent local share would be $63,405,400.

For the average taxpaying property owner the maximum debt service increase would be $68.96 in fiscal year 2023 and decrease every year thereafter, according to Mr. Steele.

In a two-pronged referendum held in early February, voters defeated the major capital improvement request (3,860 to 3,202) and a separate proposal seeking a 9-cent current expense tax hike (3,836 to 3,123) for operational funding covering staff, curriculum, supplies, transportation and utility expenses for a high school and elementary school.

The IRSD is not seeking a current expense tax increase in the May 7 referendum.

To address current overcrowding, the IRSD’s board of education at its March 25 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.

Each unit (two classrooms) for a mandated 60-month lease would cost $139,530, equating to a total five-year rental of approximately $837,000, or about $167,000 per year.

The prospect of portable rentals factored into IRSD Director of Business Jan Steele’s financial report at the April 15 meeting. Ms. Steele said the district this year is on target to be in “a very good position” and should reach its goal of a $12 million reserve, the amount needed to cover district operations from July 1 to October.

Mr. Steele shared his long-range forecast and potential impact on the district’s financial foundation.

“We are really digging deep into this referendum. Looking into the future, I expanded out the number of portables based on our enrollment projection of where I think we are going to be,” said Mr. Steele. “I think in 2024-25, 2025-26 we are going to be anywhere from 22 to 25 portables throughout the district.

That would directly impact in a negative way our operating funding. We would be spending approximately $600,000 per year right off the top to cover rentals.”

“We really have worked on our financial part of our budget, particularly with our contingency/reserve area. We are actually going to hit our goal this year, the way it looks, if we continue,” Mr. Steele said. “We have monitored that money very well. We have spent very wisely.”

Mr. Steele said that if the district has to lease upward of 22 of 25 rentals that money would come off the top of operations and “impact those reserves over time and bring us to a current expense. My big concern is we don’t want to come back with a current expense referendum for a good while.

“Current expense doesn’t go away. Current expense stays once it gets here. A major capital does go away. It is a much better bargain in the long run to go with the major capital referendum.”

IRSD’s first two public meetings were held April 11 at Sussex Central High School and Tuesday, April 16 at Indian River High School.

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

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