Voters in the Lake Forest School District are scheduled to take to the polls on May 28 to vote whether or not to approve $7.7 million worth of improvements at all six of the district's schools.

Voters in the Lake Forest School District are scheduled to take to the polls on May 28 to vote whether or not to approve $7.7 million worth of improvements at all six of the district’s schools.

Approval of the referendum would allow the district to reconfigure or relocate main offices at East and North elementary schools to create secured entrances, renovate science classrooms at W. T. Chipman Middle School, install a turf football field and replace the agriculture building at the Lake Forest High School.

If the referendum passes, the state will pick up just over $5 million of the total cost. Kent County will provide an additional $1.36 million through the School District Capital Improvement Fund. That fund is generated by building permits, said County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange.

“It’s a surcharge on building permits for construction in the district,” Petit de Mange said. “Funds get collected and get held in reserve until such time that a district has a project to direct the funds toward.”

A surcharge of 1.4 percent of the assessed value of the construction is added  to all residential building permits and to the first $1 million of commercial projects. Non-profit buildings and additions valued at less than $60,000 are exempt from the surcharge. Of that 1.4 percent surcharge .09 percent is given to Polytech School District because that school serves the entire county. The remaining 1.16 percent is given to the school district in which the new structure is being built. The policy was enacted by Kent County Levy Court in 2004, Petit de Mange said.

“As new development occurs, the district is getting some money to help enhance school capacity to serve the new population,” he said. “As growth happens, the funds collected provide to district the opportunity to expand.”

The remaining $1,251,217 needed for the capital improvements will have to be raised by local tax payers. Passing of the referendum would cause a 1.5 cent increase per $100 of assessed value to the district’s debt service tax, but that increase would be offset by the fact that Lake Forest will have a reduction in interest payments on its current outstanding debts. That decrease would lead to a 2-cent decrease per $100 of assessed value in the debt service tax, meaning that even if the referendum passes, local taxpayers would pay half a cent less per $100 of assessed value for the debt service tax.

Lake Forest’s overall school tax rate, which is broken down into of four separate taxes: debt service, current expense, tuition and match tax, is set to increase as a result of the operating referendum district voters passed in 2012.It is unclear exactly how much the overall school tax will be affected because the tuition and match taxes have not yet been set, daCosta said. Those specific tax rates will be set in late June or early July.

Lake Forest’s current school tax rate is set at $1.31 cents per $100 of assessed value of the property. When voters go to the polls in May they will be voting specifically whether or not to approve changes in the debt service tax rate, daCosta said.

“This referendum just covers a multitude of things on our to-do list, said Superintendent Dan Curry. “If we wanted to do them as money could be freed up through minor capital they would never all get done.

“There is nothing frivolous at all about this,” Curry added. ”It’s all about safety and community.”

In order to hold a referendum, the school district first had to acquire a certificate of necessity from the Delaware Department of Education. The district applied for a certificate in August, which was later approved in November. The Lake Forest School District Board of Education voted on April 10 to take the next step and set a date for the referendum. 

If voters approve the referendum on May 28, the school district will begin receiving state funding in July, and funding will be dispensed over a three-year period, according to Curry.

Once state funding is received, the district will begin the planning phase, which is expected to take six to nine months, Curry said.  The projects will be put out for bit and construction should begin by July 2015. The entire process should be complete by June 2017, Curry said.

“[This is] a very small referendum compared to some that have been approved in recent years in other districts where they’re tearing down old and building new high schools,” he said. “This is just a bit of remodeling and minor upgrades for safety. I think it’s affordable, necessary and it has no frills.”