With one more public forum offered on Cape Henlopen's upcoming referendum for a new middle school and high school addition, officials are asking residents to come out and hear about the proposal.
“This is the largest group we've had so far,” said Superintendent Robert Fulton during the March 5 forum held at Milton Elementary. About a dozen people attended, up from six who attended an earlier forum at Cape High and two who attended the first forum at Rehoboth Elementary.
Fulton said he was concerned about complacency over the referendum, which asks residents to hold the debt service tax rate already approved in 2014 and 2016 for district construction, and use the $21 million in local funds raised by the previous referendum to build a new middle school and high school classrooms.
The state has agreed to pay $34 million of the $55 million total project cost if voters approve the referendum.
Fulton said if the referendum is rejected, it could take another five to eight years before the state agrees to fund a building project for Cape. Already, he said, the middle schools have exceeded their capacities and the district will spend $130,000 to place one trailer with two classrooms at Beacon Middle this fall and spend another $130,000 for a similar trailer at Mariner Middle.
With voter approval, the 600-student middle school would be built on the grounds of Shields Elementary, which will be torn down when the new Shields is expected to open in 2021. At the high school, 20 classrooms would be built along Kings Highway with two hallways connecting to the existing high school. School officials estimate the addition would house about 400 students.
While the district can build a new middle school and put a classroom addition on the high school without raising the debt service tax rate, a tax increase is needed to pay for teachers, administrators, electricity, maintenance and other services for the new middle school.
Fulton said the current expense increase would be permanent, but it would be spread out over two increases – five cents in 2019 or about $12 more a year for the average resident and 15 cents more in 2022 for an additional $35. The total operating expense increase would be nearly $50 a year for the average homeowner. An average district home is valued at $250,000 with an assessed value of $22,500.
A final public forum on the referendum will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Love Creek Elementary.
The referendum will be held 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 20, with polling places at Cape High, Mariner Middle School and Rehoboth Elementary. Voters must be at least 18 and reside in Cape Henlopen School District.