When the Indian River School District hosts a current expense referendum on Thursday, March 2, it will seek additional funding to accommodate a large increase in student enrollment during the past seven years.
Since 2010, the district’s total enrollment has grown by 1,681 students and officially stands at 10,467. However, enrollment has grown by an additional 283 students since the state’s annual unit count on September 30, thus pushing the total above 10,700. A growth rate of 3 to 4 percent per year is expected to continue into the future and the district projects its enrollment to exceed 12,000 by 2022.
“Indian River is one of the fastest-growing school districts in the State of Delaware and additional funding is needed in order to continue providing the best possible educational services to our students,” IRSD Interim Superintendent Mark Steele said. “As enrollment grows, revenues are unable to keep up with the increasing costs of educating our children. Passage of this referendum is critical to the future of our schools. We hope parents and community members will support to this important initiative on March 2.”
The district is proposing a tax increase of 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. This will raise $7,350,000 in additional local revenue. Thirty-three cents of the proposed increase will be used to hire additional teachers and paraprofessionals authorized through the annual unit count and fund the purchase of additional supplies, materials and furniture to accommodate student enrollment growth. Revenue from this portion of the tax increase will total $4,950,000.
Of the remaining tax increase, eight cents will be used for school safety ($1,200,000) and eight cents will go toward student services and support ($1,200,000). If the referendum is approved, the average district taxpayer will see an increase of $95.41 in his or her annual property tax bill.
“With additional students comes the need for additional instructional staff,” Steele said. “The district is currently in a position where it cannot fill the teacher and paraprofessional positions it’s entitled to through the annual unit count. This could lead to understaffing in our schools, which in turn could create larger class sizes and place a strain on educational resources.”
Complicating matters are anticipated cuts in state education funding for Fiscal Year 2018. This could require every district in the state to reduce its budget anywhere from 2.5 to 10 percent. In Indian River, this could cost the district between $2.4 million and $9.5 million.
If the referendum is not approved by voters, the district could face up to $13 million in budget cuts (one-third of total budget), cuts to school safety, a significant reduction in staff due to an inability to meet payroll, larger class sizes, the loss of staff to other school districts and inadequate instructional supplies and materials. The district could potentially lose 90 teachers, 20 paraprofessionals, 12 food service staff, 10 custodians and 7.5 secretaries. Five administrative contracts were not renewed for 2017-2018 in addition to the five administrative positions that are currently being left unfilled.
The Indian River School District currently has the lowest school property tax rate in Sussex County and will continue to have the lowest rate with passage of the referendum. In addition, the Board of Education has reduced the tuition, debt service and minor cap tax rates each of the past three years. This represents a total decrease of 16.5 cents and a savings to the average district taxpayer of $32.13. However, by law these funds could not have been used for the current expense initiatives described above.
Property tax assistance is available to senior citizens and disabled residents. For information, contact the Sussex County Exemption Coordinator at (302) 855-7762.
Anyone with questions about referendum is encouraged to visit irsd.net/referendum or call the district’s Referendum Hotline at (302) 436-1079.
Voting on March 2 will be from 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Residents of the Indian River School District who are U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age are eligible to vote at any one of the following polling places: East Millsboro Elementary, Georgetown Elementary, Indian River High School, Long Neck Elementary, Lord Baltimore Elementary and Selbyville Middle School. Proof of identification or residency is required at each polling place. Residents DO NOT have to be property owners in order to vote.
If the referendum is postponed due to inclement weather, it will be rescheduled for Thursday, March 16, 2017.
Voters must reside within the boundaries of the Indian River School District, be U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age, and provide identification at the polling place. Voter registration is not required. Acceptable proofs of identity, name and address include, but are not limited to, State of Delaware driver’s license; State of Delaware automobile registration card; State of Delaware ID card; work ID with photo and address; credit card with photograph and signature; document identifying person by photograph or signature; recent utility bill, rent receipt, business letter setting forth the person’s address or telephone directory listing in the current issue of the phone book; or any other reasonable document that identifies the person’s address.
Absentee voting is handled by the Sussex County Department of Elections at 119 North Race Street in Georgetown. Absentee ballots are available by mail until noon on February 24 and in person until noon on March 1. For more information, contact the Department of Elections at (302) 856-5367.