IRSD: Public input sought at special major capital planning meeting

GEORGETOWN – Indian River School District has rescheduled a special public meeting for discussion on the district’s future building and major capital improvement needs.

Postponed March 20 due to winter weather, the Major Capital Planning Committee meeting will be held Wednesday, April 11 in the Sussex Central High School auditorium.

The meeting is scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The public is invited.

District officials will present current and projected enrollment figures, review the district’s previous Certificate of Necessity submission to the State of Delaware and accept community input on workable solutions and ways to relieve overcrowding in district schools.

At the Jan. 22, 2018 board of education meeting, IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele presented enrollment data that showed 11 of district’s 16 schools were over the district’s 90-percent capacity number and had a “closed” school choice status.

Sussex Central High School, which opened its doors in 2004 with a 1,500-student capacity, has been over capacity for several years. As of the Jan. 22 presentation, SCHS’s enrollment was 1,631 – or 109-percent maximum capacity.

This meeting, decided upon following discussion at the March 26 board of education meeting, is one several sessions that will held. The board discussed the need for both public meetings and special board meetings, which are also open to the public.

“At some point, not that I want to meet every night, we’re going to need both. It’s not just a once-a-month meeting. I think at this point it’s pretty important,” said board of education member James Fritz. “I think we need public input, and then chew it over as well as to see what our needs actually are. You’re going to need both, probably multiple of both over the next couple of months, to be honest with you.”

Board member Dr. Heather Statler offered a suggestion. “We may want to also garner some survey data from the public because not everybody will attend those meetings,” Dr. Statler said. “I think it would be nice to get some buy-in from folks in that mechanism, which I am not sure we have captured before. But it may give us some good insight.”

School board member Leolga Wright urged to district to ensure everyone has ample meeting notification. “We had some teachers and administrators that weren’t aware of it (the previous meeting scheduled) until like the last minute,” she said. “I don’t know what their reason was behind that, but I was just told that.”

J.R. Emanuele, president of the Indian River Education Association, urged the district to include teachers in discussion and development of proposals. He said historically referendums are “tough to pass” if teachers are not informed or part of the process.

The Indian River district is wrestling with growing pains amid rapid enrollment growth, which is approaching 11,000 district-wide. About two years ago the board and district developed plans for construction, which comprised the Certificate of Necessity. It included two new schools, expansion of Sussex Central high School and projects at three other elementary and middle schools.

Because a new Howard T. Ennis facility, which serves students with significant disabilities in the Indian River School District and other districts, will be 100-percent state funded it was not included in the CN process required for a major capital referendum.

“I think what we need to do to be successful with this referendum is we need to put a lot of thought into this, so we have zero waste – and we get exactly what we need without any waste,” said IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele.

Mr. Steele informed the board that studies undertaken at central office have pinpointed about five areas of concern. “We have space issues at elementary, middle and high school in the north end. We have space issues on the south end, at a high school and middle school,” said Mr. Steele. “I think that if we can get some public input so you can have different views of it, board input, input from IREA, then we can all come together and find a really solid solution that we can go out to the public and show them that we are going to be good stewards of the money.”

Sussex Central High School is located at 26026 Patriots Way, off Avenue of Honor and U.S. 113 south of Georgetown.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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