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.
At the most recent school board meeting (11/7), the promise to Doraville for a new elementary school seems to have been quietly removed from previous plans.
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.
I have long said it was a very dumb idea to add on to these already large high schools that are located in dense neighborhoods with 2 lane roads. Lakeside would start to look ridiculous with anything else squeezed onto the property. Lakeside is situated on a piece of land far too small and difficult to access to add more classrooms which would bring in more students, traffic and events.
Take a look at how many more high schools are located in central and south DeKalb vs north DeKalb. The attendance zones overlap in south DeKalb and the map graphic doesn’t even include Arabia!
(Arabia has a capacity of 2,000 and acres and acres of land. US News reported 2016 enrollment of only 1,363). http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/georgia/districts/dekalb-county/arabia-mountain-high-school-academy-of-engineering-5863
Turner Construction has this to say about Arabia on their portfolio website >> “This 240,000 square foot high school consists of 81 classrooms, a media center, areas for language arts, sciences, social studies, mathematics, speech, reading, computer science, vocational studies, art, music and physical education. Also included in the project scope is a kitchen/cafeteria, a stage, guidance/administration offices and support areas. The project was built with sustainable elements, achieving LEED Silver certification, and includes approximately 550 parking spaces, separate bus and parent drop-off loops, a running track, football field, soccer/practice field, a baseball field and two tennis courts.”
Not much like that in north DeKalb for sure. And SW DeKalb and MLK with all of their large facilities are only a few miles away from Arabia.
The point is — growth in north DeKalb has been ignored for far, far too long in favor of evenly (‘fairly’) distributing SPLOST dollars across the entire system. It’s time to build another high school (maybe even two) in north DeKalb – not just do more ridiculously over-sized ‘add-ons’ to the burgeoning older schools in the district. The current plan is not a plan at all – it’s just a reaction and a cheap ‘fix’ that will only be temporary.
[…] You can read Stan Jester’s most recent piece here and Nancy Jester’s piece here. […]
My main concern is changing the border between Districts 1 and 2 – which is currently I-85. If a new Cross Keys High School were built past this border at the old Briarcliff location, then Cross Keys residents would have to cross one of America’s busiest intersections to go to their new high school, and current Lakeside residents would have to cross that same intersection to go to middle school once redistricting occurs. The intersection between North Druid Hills and Briarcliff is one of metro Atlanta’s dangerous, with 13 accidents per month. I-85 is the border between the Cross Keys and Lakeside districts for a reason – at least in the southern portion. Because this highway intersection is jammed packed, perpetually busy, and dangerous as hell. This is so insanely stupid. The person who came up with this idea isn’t even a DeKalb resident, and a traffic study was never even performed. These nonresident planning ‘experts’ only count distance when drawing these maps for us. They’ve only pretended to hear stakeholder concerns. None of the real primary stakeholders concerns were taken into account – like traffic, proximity, and keeping communities together. Fake secondary concerns like ‘no split feeders’ were recorded before meetings even occured. It is clearly a sham democracy with a plan devised in secret ahead of time, then shoved down our throats before we had a chance to learn what was happening. Plan B is such a disaster. This is going to be the subject of a massive lawsuit in the future. Board members must listen to the real concerns of stakeholders, not merely pre-record fake concerns before meetings even occur – or they create the subject of a massive lawsuit enjoining the entire plan. We need to get behind a new Plan D – D for Doraville