Building capacity set as new school year begins

SELBYVILLE — Opening-week enrollment in the Indian River School District stood at 10,650 as the district ponders a decision in addressing school choice.

Three schools were at or over building capacity as of Sept. 8.

Sussex Central High School was at 110 percent capacity, Selbyville Middle School was at 102 percent and East Millsboro Elementary was 100 percent capacity, according to IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele. Indian River High School and Long Neck Elementary were 96 percent or above, Mr. Steele said.

Mark Steele

Building capacity was the focus of a committee study in August. Consensus among staff and administration: 90 percent was a fair number.

“We felt that 85 percent is a low number for capacity,” said Mr. Steele at the Aug. 28 board of education meeting. “We felt that 95 percent would cut it pretty close. It did not leave a lot of room if you get bombarded with a high number of kids coming. We felt that 90 percent may be a fair, good capacity number for us to look at.”

“We feel pretty confident of where we were. I agreed on every school on what exactly we should take or shouldn’t take,” said Mr. Steele.

“I think the 90 percent is a fair number,” said Preston “Pep” Lewis, IRSD’s Administrator of Student Services. “I think it’s something that we can look forward to especially going into the 2018-19 school choice lottery.”

School board member Jim Hudson thanked the administration and school staff for their efforts to quantify and simplify the simmering school choice issue in one of the fastest-growing districts in the state.

“I do want to thank you (Mr. Steele) and Mr. Lewis for going the extra mile, meeting with the principals and going over this data because I feel awful comfortable,” said school board member Jim Hudson. “I don’t there is any question at this point because the principal and the superintendent have had a good discussion about where they are and what kids they can and cannot take. I feel a lot better about where we are tonight than I have over the last four or five months. I just want to thank you and your team.”

Capacity percentages as of the Aug. 28 board meeting were: Georgetown Middle School (89 percent); Phillip Showell Elementary (69 percent); Lord Baltimore Elementary (90 percent); John M. Clayton Elementary (84 percent); East Millsboro Elementary (99 percent); Long Neck Elementary (96 percent); Georgetown Elementary (86 percent); North Georgetown Elementary (88 percent); Georgetown Kindergarten Center (88 percent); Selbyville Middle School (103 percent); Millsboro Middle School (90 percent); Georgetown Middle School (89 percent); Southern Delaware School of the Arts (83 percent); Indian River High School (96 percent); Sussex Central High School (109 percent).

Those building capacity numbers were impacted over the following week, leading up the first week of school that began Sept. 5.  This year, Sept. 29 will be the “snapshot” enrollment count (Sept. 30, traditionally the enrollment count date falls on Saturday). The enrollment count determines various state-funding units for teachers and staff.

Meanwhile, the IRSD is considering joining all other Delaware public schools in enlisting Data Service Center — a free online service that could streamline the district’s school choice application process.

Data Service Center Director Katey Semmel provided a PowerPoint presentation at the Aug. 28 school board meeting.

Katey Semmel, director of Data Service Center shares information on DSC’s school choice service at the Aug. 28 Indian River School District board of education meeting.

“We have been around for about 40 some odd years. We’ve been doing data processing applications development, support services for school districts in Delaware for about that long,” said Ms. Semmel. “We have applications in every district in the state. Anything that we can do help with the business of schools in supporting the administration staff and providing data for students that’s kind of our charge. We have actually been supporting choice since its inception years and years ago.”

Ms. Semmel noted that House Bill 269, which would require every district in the state to utilize DSC for school choice, was submitted at the end of the General Assembly session. “It will probably come up at beginning of next session,” said Ms. Semmel. “As of right now it is really just Indian River and a handful of charter schools that are not using it.”

Mr. Steele the IRSD processes about 750 choice applications annually, approximately 600 more than any neighboring district.

“For us right now it’s become a personnel thing. It’s a time-consuming process. This is an application we’d like consider looking at,” said Mr. Steele. “I do think in another year we’re going to be told that is what we are going to use. I do believe the state will pass this.”

Ms. Semmel explained the DSC process in an overview.

“Parents submit a choice application. The district processes that application to determine if it has everything it needs to be accepted as an application. We work with the district to help with the electronic lottery if you choose to do that,” said Ms. Semmel. “We run the lottery. It takes into consideration all of your preferences. If a preference is to invite siblings of returning students, that goes first, we process them first. Then we move on to the next preference. Every district is a little bit different. Once the lottery is completed and its reviewed and its finalized, then we send out bulk invitations.”

“If we are beyond capacity in a building does that trump everything else?” asked board member Dr. Heather Statler.

“You control those capacities. It’s a school decision,” said Ms. Semmel. “The choice system is not going to make those local decisions for you. And it shouldn’t.”

“The board still has to approve these applications as they have done in the past,” said Mr. Lewis.

“What do you consider ‘at capacity,’” asked board member James Fritz.

“It’s really up to the district. There is an 85 percent …. where if your building is already at 85 percent you don’t have to do invitations past that point. But some districts will take it right to the edge. Some will go over,” Ms. Semmel said.

In 2015, DSC entered into a state contract with the Delaware Department of Education. “Basically, the role that DOE plays is they provide guidance and information on regulations,” said Ms. Semmel.  “But we at Data Service Center we run the whole show. We do all the training. We do all the support. We help all the districts through the entire process.”

The DSC school choice website is:

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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