The Christina School District has identified facilities needs costing nearly $100 million, and on Tuesday, the school board took the first step toward a potential referendum to raise funds to support the projects.
The school board voted unanimously, with Angela Mitchell absent, to approve a certificate of necessity, which is the first step in beginning the complex process of a capital referendum.
Moving forward with a capital referendum, however, is contingent on approval by the Delaware Department of Education. If approved, the earliest a vote could be expected would be February.
Different than an operating referendum – which raises taxes to pay for everyday expenses like salaries and supplies – a capital referendum asks voters for the authority to borrow money to complete major facilities projects. If successful, taxes would go up to cover to cost of paying off the bonds.
The state would fund 60 percent of the cost, said Robert Silber, chief financial officer for the district.
It’s up to the state to determine which specific projects will move forward for a referendum.
Silber said that in the early stages, with so many variables, it is hard to estimate the exact impact the projects could have on taxpayers. However, if the DOE approves all the projects, a successful referendum could result in an 8.5 cent increase per $100 of assessed property value. For the average homeowner, that equates to a $53 tax hike, phased in over three years.
“Ultimately, as a taxpayer, we need to know that [rate],” Silber told the board Tuesday. “But I think the board cannot lose sight of what its responsibility is. Your responsibility is to raise the capital to make sure that these buildings are in the appropriate conditions. If we start worrying about what the rates are going to be, if we start worrying about what the fiscal impact is going to be, I’m going to ask a question of the board: What projects are you not planning on doing to hit a certain budget?”
The district identified needed improvements at 12 schools, including Christiana and Newark high schools and Downes and West Park Place elementary schools.
George Wicks, director of facilities, said the projects each represent an immediate facilities need. Some of the work includes security upgrades such as secure entrance vestibules, and other projects further the high school reimagining that the school board approved last year.
Improvements are mostly are tied to infrastructure – such as new HVAC systems, roofs, lighting – but the list also includes more notable projects, such as:
• $730,000 for auditorium upgrades for Newark High School, which will become the School of Arts and School of Innovation, including replacement of light fixtures, stage lighting and an upgrade of the sound system.
• $750,000 for science lab renovations at Christiana High School, which will become the School of Agricultural Sciences and School of Health Science
• $1,346,1500 for a four-classroom addition to Downes Elementary School
Meanwhile, a second referendum in the future would ask the community and state to support a replacement or large-scale renovation of Shue-Medill Middle School as well as significant upgrades to Newark High School.
The district is currently developing a districtwide assessment of buildings, which will identify additional facilities needs. That assessment will likely be complete by the end of September, and those costs could be included in that second potential referendum.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the district would purchase new stadium lights for Newark High School for $650,000. That would not be included in this potential major capital referendum, but in a future CN submission.