In an effort to retain its students, the Indian River School District has invested about $18,000 in a publicity campaign to showcase its programs and accomplishments.
“We want to make sure everybody is aware that we’ve got wonderful programs and there’s no need to go somewhere else when you can get the same thing or better right here, in your home district,” said Jim Hudson, member of the Indian River Board of Education.
According to Patrick Miller, district chief financial officer, in the current school year, Indian River lost 143 students to the Delaware School Choice Program, which affords students the opportunity to attend the public school of their choice, even if it’s outside of their residential district. When those students left the district, they took with them more than $296,500 in tax dollars, which is payable to those other districts. That amount could have been more, but it’s offset by the 230 students from other districts who chose to attend Indian River schools this year.
Although the district gained more students than it lost, it still had to pay out because the district’s per pupil expenditure is lower than in other area districts. According to the Delaware Department of Education’s website, Indian River’s per pupil expenditure is $11,736. Cape Henlopen School District’s per pupil expenditure is $14,463 and Sussex Technical School District’s is $16,717. Indian River must cover the other districts’ expenses to educate Choice students.
The district also lost 109 students to charter schools, costing more than $251,500. A charter school’s per pupil cost is calculated based on a student’s grade level and whether or not a student has special needs. The cost ranges from $2,000 to $7,000.
The publicity campaign, Miller said, is “specifically targeted to our department Choice and charter students in attempting to retain them to attend schools within Indian River School District as well as potentially enticing district students to attend Indian River [schools].”
Dave Maull, a spokesman for the district, said the campaign includes television commercials and radio spots aired on a handful of local outlets. The commercials began airing at the end of October and will continue through the first week of January.
“The goal is to show parents and the community some of the great things we have in the district,” Maull said. “We’ve won some major awards and have some terrific programs.”
Among the programs highlighted are Sussex Central High School’s International Baccalaureate Program and Indian River High School’s dual enrollment partnership with the University of Delaware.
While it’s the hope that these commercials will help keep students in the district, some residents say the campaign is a waste of money.
Page 2 of 2 - Donald Welsh, a Dagsboro resident, doesn’t have children but still pays district taxes and doesn’t see a need to advertise public schools.
“I know I don’t have children in the school district, but I have to pay as much as everybody else,” Welsh said at a recent Indian River Board of Education meeting. “There are other ways to advertise and radio and television aren’t the cheapest way to go. I don’t see a need for these advertisements.”
Hudson said because the district loses an average of $5,000 for each student that chooses to leave, retaining just three or four students pays for the cost of the campaign.
“I understand the idea that we’re going out of the box a little bit and spending some money,” he said. “But if we can spend $18,000 and keep $100,000 or $200,000, we’ve done a good job with our money.”