I am writing pursuant to meetings and conversations that I have had with numerous parents, civic groups, and taxpayers in District 1. The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is in the process of determining how to allocate the funding for e-SPLOST V and, furthermore, how to potentially redistrict for the best use of the capital resources within the district.
As a parent, a taxpayer, and a county commissioner, I have concerns and deep interest in these plans. My constituents have expressed concerns and have requested that I weigh in on their behalf regarding these matters.
In order to provide service and value to my constituents, I have sought information, opinions, advice, guidance, and consensus regarding the various proposals and discussions that the DeKalb County School District has shared with the public and the Board of Education. My letter is divided into sections: (I) The history of the school districts proposals; (II) Critiques of the final recommendation; (III) An alternative plan.
Click here to read about the original three proposals from the school district.
Click here to read about the final recommendation from the administration regarding how to allocate e-SPLOST V revenue, and adjustments to feeder patterns for schools.
Just this week, the plans for the final recommendation were released and include adding a two story, 600 seat addition to Dunwoody High School, a two story 750 seat addition to Lakeside, a three story 600 seat classroom addition to Chamblee High School, and no new high school cluster for the Doraville area. There are additions to parking as well. These parking additions include building over 100 new spaces along Chamblee-Dunwoody Road for Chamblee High School plus a multi-story parking to take up even more of their campus.
Promises Not Kept
Unfortunately, the renovations, upgrades, and expansions that were promised to common areas like gymnasiums, band and choral rooms, etc. are not part of the plan. It appears that the kitchens will be expanded and there are some small additions to the cafeteria (400 sq. ft. at DHS). In my discussions with parents the upgrades to certain common areas were a key selling point to earn support for the plan to add classroom additions. Sadly, what the parents thought they were getting and what the school district is planning are not the same.
Continued Disregard for Doraville
With all of these changes, there continues to be no regard for the Doraville community. They will be the only city that does not have a community cluster of schools. Many school attendance feeder patterns remain incongruent with the stated policy of the district and defy common sense. I realize that redistricting is difficult but continually adding seats to schools that are tucked in residential areas, on campuses that can never adequately provide the necessary space for sports or many other activities, is not rational or scalable.
Lack of cooperation with other jurisdictional authorities (cities and county)
The school district is also planning in a vacuum. At no point during the School District’s planning process has the county, or any of the cities, been consulted about traffic, hydrology, storm water and sewer capacity at the sites in Dunwoody, Chamblee, Brookhaven or in the unincorporated county.
Permitting and building codes are part of the power of the cities and counties where they have jurisdictional authority. The school district must go through these processes as any land owner must to obtain the necessary authorization to building anything on the property. The cities and county governments have a role to play in these decisions. It is common sense and a best practice to involve all entities in the planning process. That has not happened.
Disrespect for homeowners/taxpayers that do not have children in public schools
Furthermore, the community at large has never been surveyed or invited to participate in the planning process. The only conduit for information has been to the parent community in the district. This leaves out families that have children that do not attend a public school and the broader community of homeowners that may be retired or without children. They all pay a hefty sum in school property taxes. They should receive more respect and attention than has been shown to them.
Imagine the shock of a homeowner who lives near a school and suddenly has a three story parking deck that comes out of the ground; blocking the sunlight that once came into their living room windows. Imagine the removal of the natural buffers that shield adjoining properties from school campuses. Shouldn’t these neighbors and tax payers be consulted before approval of such plans?
Based on the input that I have received, a few things are clear.
- Municipal boundaries should be respected.
- Walkable community feeder patterns should be respected.
- Communities all across DeKalb do not support large format high or middle schools (schools with student populations greater than 1500-1700)
- Communities do not want split feeder patterns.
- Doraville deserves a high school.
- There is excess capacity at many high schools near those that are over capacity that could provide relief.The school district should draft a plan that sends students within cities to the high school within its municipal boundaries. In areas where more students are required than live in the city, additional students from outside of the municipal boundaries can be districted to fill the school. This will improve community cohesion, intergovernmental relationships, and foster trust and collaboration.
Before adding the large additions to Chamblee, Dunwoody, and Lakeside, the school district should look to best use the existing facilities in the county; as many high schools are underutilized.
A focus in SPLOST V should be to renovate and upgrade programmatic spaces in schools where they are overburdened and/or outdated. This is a separate issue from capacity. These types of renovations should not be used as bargaining chips to get some parents to agree to large additions to classroom seats. All of the students in DeKalb County deserve facilities that allow them to fully participate in activities like band, choir, drama, art, and sports. DeKalb has lagged behind our neighboring districts in providing adequate spaces for these types of activities.
The school district should go back to the drawing board, engage the municipal and county governments to come up with a master plan that works for everyone. This type of collaboration will demonstrate that it is a new day in DeKalb. It will be proof that the school district is looking to the larger community to strengthen and improve education and the quality of life for all students and all taxpayers.