Cape goes back to referendum May 21

Superintendent, teachers, student urge community to vote yes
May 17, 2024

Cape High teachers and an elementary student spoke in favor of the district’s upcoming referendum at the May 9 school board meeting, when Superintendent Bob Fulton presented final details before the Tuesday, May 21 vote.

Lewes Elementary fifth-grader Lincoln Fyock said he was speaking on behalf of his classmates. The district is growing and space is needed, Lincoln said, noting his older siblings at Cape High say their classes are full.

“I can’t imagine how crowded it will be by the time I get to high school,” Lincoln said.

Funding will ensure students have the best teachers, Lincoln said, and as schools continue to grow, more constables will be needed to keep everyone safe.

“We are aware of the dangers,” he said.

When English teacher Carmen Natrin began teaching in 2006, she said, Cape High had 800 students; the school now has more than 2,000 pupils. 

As the community grew, successful referendums allowed the district to build its current facilities, Natrin said, offering students access to technology and updated curriculum while preparing them for the workforce.

“The benefits of smaller class sizes are various and well documented,” Natrin said. “They allow for more individualized instruction, greater student engagement and improved academic outcomes.”

Cape High AP students consistently outperform state and national averages, Natrin said, with many scoring high enough to earn college credit before graduating high school. Student SAT scores have shown remarkable improvement, she said, illustrating the effectiveness of teaching and the quality of programs.

Allied health sciences teacher Linda Sapienza said she was upset people did not support the referendum.

“I thought, my students are serving them,” she said. “My students are future doctors, nurses, technicians. Some of them take their certifications they get from Cape Henlopen CTE programs and they make that their career.”

However, Sapienza said, classroom sizes have increased, hallways are full, and programs and classes that require more than one teacher are pushing through with higher teacher-to-student ratios, she said.

“Try teaching 30 students to use a BP cuff one at a time,” she said. “The approval of the referendum can only benefit our community as it builds the foundation for our youth going on to careers that will contribute to our community needs.”

The key to a successful community is a great school system, said Fulton, who noted he needs to do a better job communicating the district’s message and student successes.

For the last several years, Cape has been the top-performing district in the state, Fulton said. It’s hard to compare the district to those in other states, he said, but 16 other states use the same Smarter Balanced assessments for state accountability.

“Our Cape kids outperform every one of those other states,” Fulton said.

Claiming that Delaware ranks in the bottom of the country on National Assessment of Educational Progress testing is not reflective of Cape kids, Fulton said. Cape NAEP scores only comprise 4% of the overall number of students assessed in Delaware, he said, and Cape pupils typically perform 10% to 20% higher than state averages on standard assessments. The NAEP test is only given in three grade levels, not administered to all students, and in only three of the district’s five elementary schools, so it’s not a fair indication, he said.

Fulton said he recently spoke to a man who said the district was being untruthful regarding financial implications of the referendum. As it turns out, Fulton said, the man had incorrect information and the assessed value of his home was one-quarter what he thought it was.

“Now he’s on board,” Fulton said. “He understands the importance of sharing information that’s correct.”

The referendum seeks funding to purchase a $15 million, 102-acre parcel along Cedar Grove Road on which to construct a $21 million district office, and a $6 million bus parking and maintenance facility. 

A proposed $0.086 debt service tax rate increase will fund the land purchase and facilities, and it will cost the average homeowner $24 per year, or $2 per month, the first year. The rate would decrease in later years.  

The referendum also calls for a $0.305 current expense tax rate increase that will generate almost $4.6 million annually for staffing, utilities, technology and instructional materials. This increase will cost on average $85 per year, or $7 per month.

Together, the impact on the average taxpayer would be $110 per year, or $9 per month, he said.

Fulton said he selected actual home values from the county website to determine taxpayer expenses. A home assessed at $29,900 that has a market value of $500,000 would pay $116 per year, or $9 per month, for all proposed improvements, he said.

A home on Gills Neck Road assessed at $55,900 with a market value of $1.65 million would pay $218 per year, or $18 per month, he said.

The current expense tax rate was last raised in 2018, Fulton said, and revenue is not meeting increased expenses. District-wide growth is driving the need for the referendum, he said, and the district office needs to move so Cape High can be expanded.

“The last thing I want to do is to place modular classrooms at the high school, but we’re being very clear during this referendum that if we can’t move forward now to start planning to get the district office off site and start expanding the high school, we will have modular classrooms,” Fulton said.

Modulars present safety concerns, Fulton said, and are also a waste of money that could be better spent on kids and staff.

To put one modular with two classrooms on site and connected to all utilities, it would cost $129,000 the first year and $38,000 each additional year, he said. Over a five-year period, that modular would cost more than $280,000, he said.

It’s possible the district will need five modulars, for a total of 10 classrooms, Fulton said; over a five-year period, these modular classrooms would cost $1.4 million.

“I just want to be clear with the community, with middle school and high school parents and with our staff, that’s the reality, which turns my stomach and I never want to see,” Fulton said.

The referendum is set for Tuesday, May 21. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cape High, Mariner Middle, Beacon Middle, Rehoboth Elementary and Lewes Public Library. For more information, go to


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