School  buildings part of infrastructure gap

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Good afternoon,

Much of the discussion on aging and neglected infrastructure has focused on highways and bridges.

But an equally weightyissue involves schools.

This week, Sussex Tech rolled out plans for a $150 million new high school, citing estimates that it would cost $20 million more than upgrading the current site. The hodge-podge of buildings on the Georgetown campus has become increasingly expensive to maintain.

It will be up to the district to convince the General Assembly to sign off on the project and increase property tax at a yearly cost comparable to buying a couple of dozen cups of coffee at Wawa or Royal Farms.

District officials say the high cost is due in part to the specialized equipment needed in vocational education.

The $150 million is an eye-popping figure but compares favorably with the $147 million price tag for the Fairview campus that will lead to the Appoquiniminkdistrict building a K-12 complex with shared facilities in Odessa.

It will give wealthy and rapidly growing Appoquiniminkthree high schools. The district has been cruising along, thanks to receptive parents who vote yes on bond issues. Their property tax burden (often hidden in mortgage escrow accounts) is reduced by impact fees from new construction, and the state kicking in a large chunk of construction costs.

Meanwhile, the Christina School District estimates that it will cost $100 million to get its buildings up to snuff.

Voters in the district – which has a high percentage of low-income students and an aging voting population that pays attention to property tax bills – rejected a previous referendum. The vote, which included operating funds, would have added a couple of hundred dollars a year to tax bills, the equivalent to stopping by Wawa three days a week for a cup of coffee.

Efforts in the legislature to help school districts and Delaware Technical Community College to get funds needed for deteriorating physical plants and modernization through property taxes came to naught in the General Assembly’s last session.

Del Tech did get money out of the bond bill, but that source of funding can evaporate when times get tough. That’s just the time when Del Tech is needed in worker retraining efforts.

The Sussex Tech request could be a tough sell.

The district has seen its share of governance problems that may have snuffed out earlier plans for a new high school. Newcomers will be unhappy when they find out that vo-tech districts don’t have to jump through the same hoops as their public school counterparts.

Meanwhile, nearby Indian River voters rejected a referendum that would deal with growth in the public school district. The thumbsdown camedespite the state kicking a large percentage of the cost.

Have a great weekend. This newsletter returns on Monday. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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