Four community meetings are scheduled in March to provide Cape Henlopen School District residents with details on the plan for a proposed new elementary school.
Superintendent Robert Fulton said district officials have spoken with a few local groups and, so far, the response has been positive.
“People understand there’s a real need for what we have here,” he said.
Meetings will be held starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March, 11, at Rehoboth Elementary School; Wednesday, March, 19, at Milton Elementary School; Monday, March, 24, at Cape Henlopen High School; and Tuesday, March, 25, at Beacon Middle School.
The district’s student population has increased every year since 2002, adding 855 students in 12 years. A University of Delaware study estimates the district will grow by 938 students by 2033.
This increase has put pressure on the elementary schools, which have not received the kind of major capital improvement that was approved for the high school and middle schools, officials say.
A facilities task force last year recommended replacement or improvements to all four elementary schools, but the school board reduced the plan to a new school proposed across Route 24 from Beacon Middle School and classroom additions at both middle schools.
Cape residents are asked to approve a 27 cent increase to their property tax rate to help pay for the $31 million project. The state has agreed to pay 60 percent of the total construction costs, leaving residents about $11 million to pay. Of the 27-cent increase, residents would pay 10 cents per $100 of assessed property for capital improvement costs, and another 17 cents for operating expenses. The 10-cent increase would expire after 30 years; the 17 cents would be a permanent tax increase, officials said.
An average district home is assessed at $21,546, which means a resident would pay $59 more a year in 2017 when the full tax increase would go into effect.
Director of Administrative Services Brian Bassett said senior citizens 65 years old or older are eligible for 50 percent savings on their property taxes up to $500.
Improvements to the district’s elementary schools are part of the school district's long-term plan. Regardless of whether the referendum passes, Fulton said, the district will continue discussion on ways to improve the four current elementary schools.
One change that would not involve additional taxpayer money involves realigning school boundaries so school populations would be comparable as far as socio-economic status and race. At issue has been students populations at Milton and H.O. Brittingham elementaries – schools that lie less than a mile apart but which have diametrically different student populations.
“We’re going to redraw the attendance boundaries regardless of whether this passes or not,” Fulton said.