IRSD to start talking growth again — ‘We’re behind the ball’

Date Published: 
Dec. 29, 2017

Even if Indian River School District were, right this moment, to successfully pass a referendum to build new schools, it would be years before the doors opened and the district found relief for the growing student population.

In the new year, the IRSD Board of Education is ready to start having some “serious talks about increased enrollment, especially in the north,” Board President Charles Bireley said in December.

In the autumn of 2016, even the State of Delaware recognized that IRSD needs additional buildings, giving them permission to pursue four capital-improvement projects: a new elementary school at the Ingram Pond property in Millsboro; a new middle school on the Sussex Central High School property north of Millsboro; 26 additional classrooms, an expanded cafeteria and another gymnasium at Sussex Central High School; and replacement of the Howard T. Ennis School building in Georgetown.

But those approved certificates-of-necessity took a back seat to the current-expense referendum that the IRSD was trying to pass at the time (which failed in its initial vote and wasn’t approved until a second vote in the spring of 2017), just to keep the lights on and make up for budget cuts elsewhere.

But the kids keep coming, and just a quick study of the Georgetown schools made district leaders nervous.

For instance, this year, at Sussex Central High School, the school population has already exceeded the space capacity of 1,500 by another 115 students. Based on Millsboro and Georgetown middle schools, SCHS is only going to get more cramped.

“We would be facing a situation next year where they have an increase of 100 more than they are today,” said Superintendent Mark Steele. “I do plan on running projections for all 16 schools over Christmas break and give you some good solid numbers when we get back … give us a real clear picture of what we’ll be facing over the next five to seven years.”

“We’re behind the ball with this referendum,” Rodney Layfield said.

“We’re looking at about four, five years down the road before we can get any relief. We’re also going to see the same crowding at East Millsboro and Long Neck. They seem to be growing rapidly,” said Steele.

Even if State money isn’t available right now, Bireley said, “We need to do our part to get ready.”

There is some good news on the building front. Because Howard T. Ennis is a special State school, it’s 100 percent State-funded, and the State is moving forward with allowing IRSD to build a replacement building on the district’s preferred location on Stockley Center land, across the street from SCHS.

In other recent Indian River School District news:

• The local teachers’ and staff union thanked the IRSD school board for not supporting the State’s proposed anti-discrimination Regulation 225, which was intended to protect at-risk students but was criticized by some as appearing to take away parental rights. Although the state-level union had supported the regulation for protecting students, Indian River Education Association (IREA) President J.R. Emanuele said the local union had not supported the measure, but was outvoted at the state level. The regulation and comments thereupon are currently under consideration by Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, the former superintendent of the IRSD.

• Selbyville Middle School, Georgetown Middle School and Georgetown Elementary School were honored as State Recognition Schools for performing at exceptionally high levels and/or closing the achievement gap.

• The board updated Policy GBCB.6 (Staff Conduct/Social Networking Policy for Employees), which clarifies that staff may only contact students through “district-approved forms of communications, such as: email, learning management systems, other online collaboration platforms and legitimate broadcast software, such as rainedout.com. Other forms of personal electronic communication with students, such as instant messaging, cellular phones, social media or texting are strictly prohibited.”

The IRSD Board of Education’s next regular meeting is Monday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. at Indian River High School.