DeKalb Schools has 6,167 high school seats not being used. Why aren’t we talking about redistricting and consolidating high schools?
Nancy Jester is the DeKalb County Commissioner from District 1. Prior to being elected to the Board of Commissioners, Nancy served on the DeKalb County Board of Education.
Redistrict and Consolidate DeKalb Schools High Schools
DeKalb County Commissioner
In 2016 DCSD embarked on a plan to spend eSPLOST V revenue that included large additions to recently renovated schools in north DeKalb and dismissed the idea of building a Doraville/Perimeter area high school to deal with the overcrowding in the area.
The main themes DCSD used for spending eSPLOST dollars in north DeKalb included building a new high school for Cross Keys and no redistricting with the building additions. The idea that redistricting would not be a part of the plan to deal with overcrowding was ridiculous and a deception, in my opinion. Once CKHS is completed, there will be a redistricting.
Now the district is pausing because the plans for these additions have larger than anticipated costs that are not within the eSPLOST budget. The district also indicated at a recent meeting that one of the reasons they have rejected building a new high school in the northern perimeter area is land cost. The district went on to discuss that they see the additions, now paused, as the final additions to Chamblee, Lakeside, and Dunwoody. I thought that was humorous as they only recently expanded and rebuilt these schools and their projections have always been so spot on. (Sorry – that was me being sarcastic.) Now that things are paused and the district is going back to the drawing board to determine how to deal with the overcrowding issue, I thought it would be a good idea to take an inventory of the variables we should all be considering.
DeKalb Schools has 6,167 high school seats not being used. There are 10 high schools at less than 80% utilization. McNair is only 41% utilized.
In the 5 schools with overcrowding, they have a total of 1,305 more students than capacity. We can redistrict all the schools with overcrowding for free and still have 4,862 high school seats not being used.
Here are my thoughts and concerns:
1. The building additions have always been an unwise idea with poorly estimated construction costs. Now those costs are ballooning, meaning that any upgrades some parents thought they could get for their schools are even less likely.
2. Needed parking improvements might be on the chopping block.
2. Redistricting is unavoidable no matter the path.
3. Land cost in the Doraville/Perimeter area are not going to get cheaper while that region will continue to add residents and students.
4. It is unfair to the students and taxpayers to have extremely low enrollments at some schools.
DeKalb County Commissioner
Last month Emory University began the process to be annexed into the city of Atlanta.
If Emory is annexed into Atlanta, it isn’t a stretch to see the scenario where the adjoining neighborhoods, including Druid Hills High School and two other elementary schools, would eventually end up annexed as well. If these areas get annexed, the students within the new City of Atlanta will go to APS and the schools within the new City of Atlanta boundaries will become Atlanta Public School property. The ensuing negotiation for the transition will be interesting.
If these schools and certain territories are annexed, many of the students that currently attend these schools would be displaced. They could find themselves in DeKalb and their school suddenly outside of their school district. DeKalb will be forced to redistrict and find new schools for the approximately 2000 students that attend these DeKalb schools now but will be outside of the City of Atlanta boundaries. And, of course, the staff of those schools will need to be hired by APS or find other jobs within a smaller DeKalb district.
The DeKalb Board of Education member that represents this area, Marshall Orson, has been criticized in the past for appearing to support an Atlanta annexation in this area.
It’s interesting to note that recently Emory University has also worked with The City of Brookhaven’s Development Authority to secure a financial transaction, including beneficial taxation positions, in the Executive Park area that was recently annexed by Brookhaven. Speculation is that Emory prefers negotiating with the City of Atlanta rather than DeKalb County regarding various issues. In particular, Emory is suspected to prefer Atlanta’s position about any potential MARTA expansion. Emory wants MARTA to have a rail stop in their Clifton corridor. The leadership in DeKalb has been more committed to MARTA expansion in the I-20 corridor.
Past interactions with the school district also play large into this dynamic. Many residents in that area were very disturbed by the inexplicable and divisive past denial of a well drafted Charter Cluster petition for the Druid Hills Cluster. The DeKalb bureaucracy’s tendency to want to have micro-control over every school community could very well end up being its Achilles Heel.
For all the flaws of the City of Atlanta and APS, they appear much more receptive to localized control within the district than DeKalb. The City’s NPUs (local Neighborhood Planning Units) have allowed 25 areas to exert control and influence over what occurs in those area. Imagine if the DeKalb government had instituted and empowered NPUs? Would there have been any motivation for the cityhood movement? With a similar number of school clusters (24’ish), the school district COULD implement something like the NPU system. Up to this point the school district has only shown a proclivity to centralize power and be punitive in the exercise thereof.
Could the tendencies to be overly controlling and centralized result in losing the prestigious Emory University and the CDC to a more welcoming and receptive City of Atlanta? Will DeKalb County’s school district and county government leadership get a clue and start letting the various areas within their jurisdictions have more autonomy and self-determination? Or, will DeKalb continue with it’s heavy handed, divisive, and biased methods? Time will tell.
DeKalb County Commissioner
Annexation Impact Analysis
Fernbank – Loss of Education SPLOST investment of $21 million
Briar Vista – ESPLOST – $1.3 million in construction renovations
Druid Hills – ESPLOST – $19 million in construction renovations
Student Impact – 2,000+ students would be displaced