November 15, 2001

Residents of the Red Clay Consolidated School District will be asked to authorize five bond issues totaling nearly $75.9 million dollars to finance the local share of a $190 million building renovation program. Although this one would cost $4.5 million more than the program proposed a year ago, it would provide the district with one new elementary school, not two.

Chief financial officer Richard Moretti said that it now appears, based on enrollment projections, that "it won't be necessary to go to two [new] schools" to achieve the district's goal of having sufficient capacity to permit all students to attend the schools of their choice.

It was decided, he said, to build the new school in the Hockessin area because "we have no elementary school in the northwest quadrant." At the same time, the district "received a mixed message" about public support for putting an elementary school at the site of Stanton Middle School. People in the area had raised objections about increased traffic, he said, adding that Stanton Middle "will get a facelift" as part of the new plan.

The district expects to be able to purchase the same property at Limestone and Valley Roads which it sought to acquire in connection with the earlier plan. Total cost of the new school, including site acquisition, is put at $13 million. It would have a capacity of 600 students.

The school board voted unanimously and without substantive discussion at its meeting on Nov. 14  to authorize Moretti to seek Delaware Department of Education approval for including state financing of the plan in its component of the state's fiscal 2003 capital spending plan that Governor Ruth Ann Minner will submit to the General Assembly in January.

Although Red Clay essentially is on deadline for getting its bid to Dover, Moretti said he did not expect any difficulty securing DelDOE's approval. In drafting the new plan. he has been in touch with state officials and "most of what's in here is the same as they approved last year," he said.

He also said he did not expect concern about the effects of economic recession and state belt tightening to have an adverse effect. Minner's call for reduction in state spending, he said, is directed toward spending on operations rather than capital spending, which is financed by long-term borrowing through the sale of bonds.

Moretti told the school board that the decision to seek state and local money in five annual installments rather than a single dip, as is customary, is a concession to the number of public school building proposals expected to be on the table this year. The annual amounts, beginning in the year which starts on July 1, 2002, are: $30.8 million, $40 million, $40.4 million, $42.1 million and $34.3 million/

The totals of both the state and local bond issues and the entire plan itself would all be record amounts.

It was not clear how firm a commitment to state support at the desired amount in future years can be obtained. The state pays 70% of the capital costs for approved projects, but so-called bond bills are enacted each spring looking only to the coming fiscal year. Many state projects, however, have been financed over multiple-year periods based on 'understandings' passed from one Assembly to the next.

Red Clay voters last April rejected, by a 53%-to-47% margin, financing the $74.1 million local share of a $185.4 million program.

Moretti said that "significant construction inflation" only partly offset by lower interest rates was responsible for escalation of the costs. He described as conservative his assumption that bonds can be sold over a five-year period at an average 4% interest, compared to the 6% he estimated that it would have cost a year ago. "I feel fairly comfortable with [the lower] rate. The next few years appear to be very good for the issuance of bonds": he said.

It was no clear whether additional projects beyond what were contained in the earlier plan make up the difference in costs after dropping one of the elementary schools from the program. Other than a reference to "additional 'funding' for playground [and] athletic field upgrades," he gave no details about the individual projects. He did say that information will be made available "in minute detail" at all district schools and on its Web site.

Assuming DelDOE agreement, Moretti said he would expect the board to set a date for a referendum "in the February or March timeframe."

He estimated that the district tax rate to cover debt service on the bonds would increase annually to reach a maximum of 13.45 for each $100 of assessed property value in the fifth year as bonds are sold. It would then decrease as they are redeemed serially. Over the 24-year lifespan of the issues average debt service tax would be 8.24, he said. By authorizing sale of bonds, voters agree to whatever tax rate is necessary to service the debt.

If approved by DelDOE, the legislature and district voters, the building program would get underway immediately.

The fiscal year which begins on July 1, 2002, would see preliminary planning for all the projects and the beginning construction at Highlands, Linden Hill, Richey and Warner schools. Construction of the Hockessin school would take plans in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 years. Improvements at the district's three high schools -- the largest components of the program -- would come in two phases, in 2004-05 and 2005-06

In a separate action, the board approved adding fifth grades at Heritage, Linden Hill and Richey schools next September. That brings all of Red Clay's elementary schools into a kindergarten-though-fifth grad configuration.

Board member Irwin Becnel noted that the action does not mean all childred completing second grade are necessarily able to remain at a school for the next three grades. Their parents must apply for them to do so under the state public school choice law and lack of capacity results in not all who apply being accepted.

"That is better than in previous days when we told all of them that they couldn't stay," board president William Manning replied.

The board also accepted and agreed to consider a proposal to charter a military academy which would be located on Middleboro Road east of Banning Park in Woodcrest. According to Jack Wintermantle, its director of development, the co-ed high school would offer a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program to 300 youngsters in ninth and 10th grades its first year and 450 through 12th grade in subsequent years.

He said he believes there may be only one other charter school based on a military specialty in the country. Most military schools are private and more than not are boarding schools. As a public school, Delaware Military Academy would be a day school and not charge tuition. He said all military schools have enrollment waiting lists.

Unlike other public schools with Junior R.O.T.C. programs, academy students would be in uniform and subject to military-style discipline five days a week, Wintermantle, a lieutenant colonel in the Delaware National Guard, said. Students would have no military obligation after their high school graduations.

2001. All rights reserved.

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