IR District may need more local money in next referendum

DAGSBORO — Student body projections have not changed.

Indian River School District enrollment is forecast to continue to steadily increase.

What has changed is the cost of the district’s proposed new school construction and classroom additions packaged in a $158.1 million major capital expense referendum proposal that twice has been rejected by voting majority.

Since the second referendum pitch seeking approval for a new 2,200-student Sussex Central High School, four classroom additions at Selbyville Middle School and eight additional classrooms at Indian River High School was defeated May 7, cost has increased, due to a recent market adjustment in the state’s square-footage formula utilized in school construction.

As an example, IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele said the state has increased the square footage cost for high schools from $422.80 a square foot to $435.48.

“That kind of took me back a little bit,” Mr. Steele said at the July 29 board of education meeting. “That will make a different cost in our local request if we have our CNs (Certificate of Necessity) approved on the same grouping that we had last year.”

Overall, the formula increase would hike the local portion of the major capital referendum by approximately $1.58 million, upping the revised local share total to $64,995,315, if an identical certificate of necessity is submitted.

The state’s 60-percent share will go up approximately $2.4 million, Mr. Steele said.

The state square footage formula for elementary construction increased from $371 to $382.13, and the middle school formula increased from $396.20 to $408.09, according to Department of Education spokeswoman Alison May, who noted “the previous formulas were in effect from 2016 through last year’s cycle. We updated the formulas this year to try and keep up with the market.”

One of the things that is a cost driver is the community is currently saturated with construction.

“Whether it be at the public sector, private sector, it’s fully saturated. Costs are being driven up,” said Mr. Steele. “The tariffs that were placed on steel has caused two big price jumps in the price of steel since we started this process.”

The district continues to grapple with overcrowded conditions at some over-capacity schools, which spawned the urgent need for more space — classrooms as well as “common” areas, such as cafeteria, gymnasium facilities — amid increasing enrollment.

Mr. Steele says the district continues to project substantial growth, noting residential housing developments either in the works or on the books in Long Neck, Georgetown, Millsboro and other areas within the district.

“We are continuing to see growth all around us. It has got to affect us in the very near future. We’re going to continue to grow,” Mr. Steele said.

Districtwide enrollment as of the July 29 meeting stood at approximately 10,700. With traditional influx of students in late August into early September, Mr. Steele anticipates Indian River’s enrollment will soon be around the 11,000-student plateau.

“We’ll probably be very close to 11,000, I believe on Sept. 30,” Mr. Steele said.

For the start of the 2019-20 school year, the district will have in place four double classroom modular units at Sussex Central High School and one double modular at North Georgetown Elementary. Those units are secured through a five-year lease agreement with the state.

In addition, two single classrooms given to the IRSD by Cape Henlopen were earmarked for the SCHS campus, equating to a total of 10 additional classrooms for that school.

In the following years, the district has anticipated it will need upward of two dozen modular classrooms, which are expensive and are covered only by local operational funds, with no funding support from the state.

At its March 25 meeting, the school board voted 9-0 to pursue upward of a half dozen portable units equating to a dozen classrooms for use at several schools. The cost given at that March meeting for each unit (two classrooms) over the mandated 60-month lease was $139,530.

At the July meeting, there was the possibility of scheduling a special board meeting to address the referendum, but Mr. Steele said it will be addressed at the school board’s regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 26.

Any changes would have to be made prior to the district’s certificate of necessity submittal to the state by Aug. 31.

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