Cape district sets March 26 referendum

First request since 2018 to be funded locally for capital projects, current expenses
February 2, 2024

The Cape Henlopen School District board approved holding a Tuesday, March 26, referendum for capital improvements and operating expenses that asks residents to pay less than district leaders originally estimated.

At the Jan. 25 board meeting, Superintendent Bob Fulton said that an increase of $0.214 to the capital projects tax rate would enable the purchase of land and fund projects approved by the state, down from a $0.25 estimate he cited earlier in the month. 

The district is also asking for a $0.335 operating expense tax rate increase for a combined increase of $0.549, which results in an increase of $153.75 per year for the average home in the district.

If approved, the district will purchase 103 acres off Cedar Grove and Mulberry roads on which to construct a new district office, a bus maintenance facility and an indoor pool facility. This certificate of necessity was approved by the state to be paid for by local funds, Fulton first announced in December.

Fulton said district leaders worked with the Citizen Budget Oversight Committee on ways to reduce the tax impact as much as possible. One way was to reduce the size of the natatorium from 43,000 square feet to 38,000 square feet, he said. During public comment, committee member Andy Lewis spoke in favor of the referendum.

What the state didn’t approve, Fulton said, was the district’s second certificate of necessity and its greatest need – classroom additions at the high school, which would have been funded 60/40, state/local.

Architects have said that to expand the high school, space for more parking and stormwater management systems is needed, Fulton said, so the district office on the Cape High campus must move for this to occur. 

This summer, he said, the district will submit another certificate seeking approval for expansion of the high school, which currently has 2,000 students. The high school was last expanded by 20 classrooms in 2021 as a result of a 2018 referendum.

All told, he said, the district has 1,500 more students and 170 more staff members than it did in 2014. With 6,500 students total, the district grows by 200 kids per year, he said; in every two to three years, that equals another school. 

Keeping up with growth is a concern, Fulton said. The district now has 1,200 staff members, he said, and has an average local payroll of just over $1 million, which is a strain on the budget. The district has and will continue to hire all teachers it qualifies for in order to keep class sizes small, he said.

Additionally, he said, the district hired more constables and school resource officers this year and will have an agreement with Lewes Police Department to place an officer at Frederick D. Thomas Middle when it opens next year. Safety personnel costs are now $700,000 annually, he said, for which the district is able to only use $200,000 in state funds; the rest is locally funded.

Still, he said, Cape has the second lowest tax rate in the county and no capitation tax, which is applied to adults in a district who do not own property. A planned $0.25 current expense referendum in 2020 was canceled because of the pandemic.

Fulton said community meetings to discuss the referendum will be held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Feb, 27 at Love Creek Elementary; Monday, March 11 at Milton Elementary; and Monday, March 18 at Lewes Elementary.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cape High, Mariner Middle and Rehoboth Elementary. Voters must provide proof of identity and address, which can include a Delaware driver’s license, a Delaware ID card, a work ID card with photo and home address; or U.S. postal material with street address.


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