Voters in the Indian River School District overwhelmingly approved a two-part referendum Tuesday that will fund the construction of 38 new classrooms and the hiring of 20 additional teachers.
Both questions on the ballot were approved by more than 65 percent of the vote, sweeping all six polling places as well as the absentee vote.
“I just want thank the public for their support,” Superintendent Susan Bunting. “We really owe this to the community’s trust in us. We have developed a proven record of achievement through what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past and I think this shows the public is partnering with us to ensure our future success.”
The first question, which authorized a 3.2-cent property tax increase that will help fund the construction of new classrooms at 6 of the district’s 15 schools, passed 2,695-1,239, or 66 to 34 percent.
The second question, which authorized an 11.5-cent property tax increase to fund the hiring of new teachers to staff those rooms, as well as added utility costs passed 2,588-1,341 or .
Together, the two referendum questions will raise about $2.2 million a year.
District officials say the additional rooms are needed as a result of a nearly 19-percent jump in enrollment since 2002.
Among the construction projects that will result from the referendum’s passage are eight new classrooms at North Georgetown Elementary School, eight new classrooms and a kitchen at Georgetown Elementary School.
The existing shop rooms at Georgetown Middle also are being converted into 10 new classrooms as part of a $525,000 project unrelated to the referendum.
The first referendum question will raise about $438,400 a year to pay the annual debt service on the district’s $4.4 million share of the total $11 million in planned classroom additions, with the state funding the remainder.
Approval of the second referendum question will collect another $1.81 million a year in operations funds.
Voter approval of the two questions means the school property tax rate for district residents will jump by 6.5 percent from $2.623 per $100 of assessed property value to $2.77 per $100.
District officials say the combined rate hikes will increase the annual tax bill for residents with homes worth between $199,000 to $250,000 by an average of $38.05.
Even with that increase, Indian River will continue to have the lowest school tax rate in Sussex County.
Although not expressly mentioned in either referendum question, Tuesday’s vote is expected to result in the Indian River School Board implementing full-day kindergarten at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Indian River is currently the only district in the state to still without full-day kindergarten.
Because of space restrictions at its elementary schools, the Delaware Department of Education has granted Indian River waivers ever since full-day kindergarten became mandatory in all districts at since the start of the 2008-2009 school year.
Indian River has received annual waivers from the state, based on space restrictions at several of the district’s seven elementary schools.
“I don’t think the board will have to take any action,” school board president Charles Bireley. “I think it’s been understood that if we have the money, we’ll (begin full-day kindergarten) in September.”
Bireley, who’s been on the school board for more than 30 years, said he was not surprised by the referendum’s outcome or its margin of victory.
“I’ve seen a lot of these over the years and you can tell by the (yard) signs,” he said. “It was very quiet in the places we went and the negative comment we heard were minimal.”