The first public meeting held to explain the need for a new elementary school in the Cape Henlopen School District brought forth a discussion on whether retirees or young families are moving to the area.
“I know for a fact young families move here for the quality of life and the schools,” said Karen Falk, who moved to the area herself because of a strong school system for her children. “They commute to jobs elsewhere, but live here with their families.”
School board candidate Robert Bennett said he is a commuter who has chosen to live here with his family.
“I drive 90 miles, and my kids have a good education,” he said.
Local radio show host Jake Smith said he questioned whether young families are moving to the area, especially when the governor and state agencies have proclaimed the area's growth is coming from an elderly population.
That may be true, said board member Roni Posner, but an aging population attracts young medical and healthcare professionals to care for senior citizens living in the area. And those young professionals often bring young families to locate in the area, she said.
“We need quality schools to attract quality service providers to come to our district,” Posner said.
To accommodate a growing student population, Cape Henlopen School District is holding a referendum Wednesday, April 2, asking residents to approve a new 720-student elementary school.
If the referendum is approved, Cape residents would pay a 27-cent increase on 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. Senior citizens 65 years or older are eligible for a 50 percent savings on their property taxes up to $500.
A University of Delaware population study has tracked student enrollment since 1998. Nearly 500 more students have enrolled in Cape schools since 2010 for a current total of 5,111.
Director of Administrative Services Brian Bassett said those numbers are not made up. “These aren't invisible kids,” he said. “It's not a one-year spike, which is going to decline.”
More than a dozen modular buildings now dot district school campuses to accommodate an overflow of students who can no longer be served with the confines of a building.
“These trailers and outbuildings are a safety concern for me,” said board member Jen Burton.
School board candidate Alison Myers, who has children in the district, said she knows about the crowded conditions first hand. “This is a need right now … even if we don't get another student,” she said.
The new school is proposed on a 25-acre parcel across Route 24 from Beacon Middle School.
Rehoboth Beach resident Mable Granke said while she likes the idea of a new school, the district must make sure the Department of Transportation commits to road improvements on Route 24 before the school is built.
“If you do not have DelDOT nailed down to improve that section of Route 24, then you're putting those children in danger,” she said. “DelDOT is not trustworthy.”
The Cape Henlopen school district will hold three more community meetings to help explain the upcoming referendum.
The remaining meetings will be held starting at 6 p.m., Wednesday, March, 19, at Milton Elementary School; Monday, March, 24, at Cape Henlopen High School; and Tuesday, March, 25, at Beacon Middle School.