On Thursday, October 31, Superintendent of the Milford School District Phyllis Kohel received a message from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) stating that the state entity has determined necessity for a school construction program in the Milford School District. DDOE has officially certified this decision and the Milford School District now awaits approval of the Preliminary Land Use Services (PLUS) Committee. This committee will review the land use change proposal on 186 acres across from Redner’s Markets in Milford on Route 113 that the district proposes to be used for the construction of a new high school.
In 2011, the Delaware Department of Education made it clear to school officials that due to the age and condition of the Milford Middle School, any major construction would not be funded by the State of Delaware. As the agency stated that the facility had aged out of its functional use, Milford Superintendent Phyllis Kohel began a community discussion in 2012 about what the future would hold for the Milford Middle School building.
A committee of community leaders was created and presented with two building analysis reports that were performed by Carolyn A. Cohee, a volunteer construction consultant for the Milford School District, and private architecture and site planning firm French & Ryan, Inc. Both presentations pointed out several areas where the exterior and interior of the school were deteriorating with age as well as problems with the electrical and heating systems in the building.
In January of 2013 a decision was made by the Milford School Board of Education to close the Milford Middle School at the end of the 2012-1013 school year. The decision included that 6th through 8th grade students enroll at the Milford Central Academy and 9th through12th grade students enroll at the Milford High School the following year. On Monday, December 16 the Milford Board of Education approved the date of March 26, 2014 to hold the referendum for the demolition of the previous Milford Middle School and the construction of a new middle school on the same site. On Wednesday, March 26 residents of the Milford School District went to the polls to vote on a construction and operational referendum and both initiatives failed to pass as 54.7% of the electorate voted against the construction referendum (1014 votes against, 839 votes for) and 55.2% of the electorate voted against the operational referendum (1078 votes against, 766 votes for).
After much deliberation of how to move forward, the Milford School District decided once again to talk with teachers, parents and residents in the Milford School District to understand why the referendum did not pass and what the public was seeking from its local public education system. Looking at several options, the Milford School Board of Education decided that the best path forward for the district was to construct a new high school, which they stated would support the continued increasing enrollment rates and foster a competitive curriculum for Milford students including a STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) school. In a letter to the community, Superintendent Kohel shared recent enrollment numbers in the district stating that “…Ross Elementary is within 20 students of being over capacity; Mispillion has grown 32 students since last year, and…Banneker will have added at least 10 more students. Furthermore, we are 30 students over capacity at the Milford Central Academy.” Working with the State of Delaware and Milford residents to establish a referendum for the construction of a new high school and an operations program, Superintendent Kohel continues to stress the effect that a new high school will have on the Milford community.
“ As evidenced by other districts throughout the state, Delaware is growing, and a positive from this is that school bond referendums result in growing communities, new home construction, improved home values, new business development and safer, more energy-efficient learning environments, as well as marked advances in student technology, arts and vocational education,” stated Kohel. “This referendum benefits the entire Milford community.”
According to school officials, the building of a new high school will allow the district to turn the Milford Central Academy and the current Milford Senior High School into a 5 through 8 grade campus and alleviate overcrowding at the elementary level. The purchase of the 186 acres land on Route 113 would also give the district enough land to build an additional elementary or middle school years from now if needed without having to purchase additional land. Concerning athletic fields at the new school, school officials state that the middle school as well as the high school campus would accommodate the needs of all athletes without having to bus students everyday for practices. The turf football and field hockey fields would still be utilized as competition fields for the high school and the savings from not building a new competition football field on the new site would allow the district to put the money saved into the proposed new building.
The Milford School District has been approved by the State of Delaware Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for $69,493,700 for the purchase of land and the building of a new 1,400 student high school. This loan is pending final approval from the PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service) and the Governor’s Budget which is expected sometime in mid to late January. The State of Delaware’s share of a construction project will be approximately 70% totaling $48,645,600 compared to the local district’s 30% share of $20,848,100. Superintendent Kohel states that the operations referendum money of $3,000,000 will help the district offset the 30% decrease in building budgets that was put in place over the last two years, and it will assist in restoring some of the programs that the district cut including summer school, transportation for certain portions of summer school, after school tutoring programs, and athletic programs. She also stated that the operations referendum will allow the district to purchase updated textbooks and update technology across the district.
The passage of the construction and operations referendum by the residents of the Milford School District will mean that home owners within the district will see an increase in their annual school tax. The Milford School District is proposing to phase the tax increase in over a period of three years. According to school officials, in year one a family with a home having an approximate market value of $150,000 can expect to see a monthly increase of approximately $5.69. A family with a $250,000 market value home can expect a monthly increase of approximately $9.84 during year one. The accumulative monthly increases over three years, on a home having an approximate market value of $150,000, can expect a monthly increase of approximately $19.05. The accumulative monthly increases over three years, on a home having an approximate market value of $250,000 can expect a monthly increase of approximately $31.75.
As part of their community outreach, the District is informing homeowners age 65 and over that they are eligible for a tax credit against regular school property taxes of 50 percent, up to $500. This credit may only be used against property taxes on a primary residence and taxpayers must pay their property tax bill in full by the end of each tax year in order to qualify for this credit for the subsequent property tax year. To receive a tax credit, homeowners 65 or older must complete an application for the credit and submit it to the county in which they reside. The amount of credit will be deducted from the property tax bill before it is mailed to the residents by the County. If the resident qualifies for the Senior School Property Tax Relief program they will not need to reapply each year.
Superintendent Kohel is urging Milford School District residents to get involved with the process and states that anyone interested on serving on the Facilities Advisory Committee or on a Community Support Committee can either call her office or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kohel states that once the district receives the final approval from the PLUS Committee, school officials will choose a final date for the referendum and begin working on a full campaign to garner support for the referendum.