IRSD: Serious discussion will focus on addressing ‘northern’ enrollment growth


SELBYVILLE – New Year 2018 in the Indian River School District will usher in discussion about options to address enrollment growth.

“We need to have serious talks about what we are planning on doing about the increase enrollments, especially in the northern end of the district,” said IRSD board of education president Charles Bireley.

At the school board’s Dec. 18 meeting, IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele and Mr. Bireley planted seeds for discussion about rising enrollment that could lead to a possible capital referendum, possibly in 2018.

Data from recent enrollment studies and projections are spurring concern, Mr. Steele said.

“I think we are going to have to start taking a look at it,” said Mr. Steele.

The superintendent told the board he plans to do projections for all 16 schools over holiday break to “hopefully try to come up with some good solid numbers.”

Sussex Central High School is well over capacity with enrollment projected to continue increasing.

Sussex Central High School – which opened in 2004, one year ahead of the district’s other high school, Indian River – has been well over building capacity. Projections are that SCHS’s enrollment, spiked by an influx of Hispanic students from the Georgetown/Millsboro area, will continue to grow.

“When we built that school brand new a few years ago I think the capacity was supposed to be like 1,300. And now we are over 1,600,” said Mr. Bireley. “If it takes us three to four years to plan, put it into the state – and just say that they say OK, and then with the construction – by the time that school is finished if we build a new one there will be somewhere between 1,900 and 2,000 students in that high school … if we go with the projection, on just what we’ve been expecting and what has happened the last few years.”

“Right now, we are over by like 20 or 30 students at Sussex Central – over and above what it was that we had in September. They just keep coming,” said Mr. Bireley.

“We could be facing a situation next year at Sussex Central where they have an increase of anywhere from 100-plus students from where they are right now today,” said Mr. Steele at the Dec. 18 meeting. “So, they could be over 1,700 students, easily.”

The district’s official Sept. 30 snapshot enrollment head count was 10,619 students for the 2017-18 year. That marked an increase of 154 students from a year ago. The Sept. 30 count for previous year, 2016-17, represented an increase of almost 300 students from 2015-16.

Mr. Steele said the district will be able to use the Sept. 30 count as another metric in looking at those projections. “So, it should give us a real clear picture of what we are going to be facing over the next five to seven years,” said Mr. Steele.

School board vice president Rodney Layfield believes the district is already behind the 8-ball.

“We’re behind the curve with this referendum,” said Mr. Layfield.

Unfortunately, Mr. Steele said even with referendum passage it would be at least four or five years down the road before the district would get any money. So, the state’s financial status also comes into play as does needed local support for passage of a major capital referendum.

Charles Bireley

“I know the state says they don’t have the money and all of that but if we sit back and wait until the state gets money without doing something on our own, and maybe forcing the issue,” said Mr. Bireley. “And we have nobody to blame but ourselves. So, I am hoping that we are going to have some serious discussion about what possibilities we can do. And really, right now it’s all in the northern end of the district. I think what is down here where I live, the Indian River area, we’re in pretty good shape.”

Discussion will most likely encompass classroom/facility addition and outright new building construction.

Mr. Bireley’s preference: a new high school.

“I’d say a high school. Sussex Central High School is our biggest problem as far as enrollment in this entire district. I would think if we are going to do something or try to do something about it, that we would attack the biggest problem that we have right now,” said Mr. Bireley. “And the problem is at Sussex Central. There is no doubt about it as far as the number of students that they have.”

Mr. Bireley believes the board needs to act responsibly but quickly. He is hopeful a referendum will be held in 2018, the earlier the better.

“In my opinion, yes. And hopefully it would have to be done quick so that if it was a favorable answer, we could get it on the roll so to speak for the state for this legislative session coming up that expires June 30 – or July 1,” Mr. Bireley said.

More than a year ago, the school district’s Futures Committee was examining workable solutions to address enrollment growth and overcrowding. The committee developed a series of option plan packages that included combinations of expansion, new schools and relocation of some facilities.

That initiative took a back seat in lieu of a more pressing matter: a $7.35 million current expense referendum, which met initial defeat in November 2016 but was overwhelmingly approved in a second referendum pitch March 2, 2017.

That current expense referendum carried a 49-cent tax increase. IRSD’s board at its June 19 meeting approved a property tax rate of $3.097 per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2018. Even with the current expense increase, Indian River still has the lowest overall school property tax rate in Sussex County.

Major capital referendums

  • Voters in May 2000 approved a referendum ($67 million/ $26.8 million local share) for two new high schools, major renovations at Lord Baltimore Elementary and renovations at nine other buildings.
  • In January 2013 voters approved a $4.4 million local-share referendum that funded construction of 38 new classrooms: eight each at North Georgetown, East Millsboro, Long Neck and the Georgetown Elementary/Middle complex; four at Phillip C. Showell Elementary and two classrooms at Selbyville Middle School. In addition, Georgetown Elementary received a new kitchen. Total cost of the projects was $11,011,000. A current expense component was also approved to fund teacher salaries, supplies, technology and utility and fuel expenses.

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