On May 24th voters across DeKalb will see an e-SPLOST referendum on their ballot. If approved, it will be the fifth, 5-year e-SPLOST program for DeKalb County School District. What have we gotten for the almost $2 billion, over 20 years, of the e-SPLOST program? What can we expect from an e-SPLOST V?
I was on the Board of Education when e-SPLOST IV was designed and won approval. I voted NO as a Board member to even take the referendum to the voters because the design was based on inaccurate assumptions and did not address the growing capacity needs of the district. I warned in 2011 that we were sentencing over a generation of children to attend schools in trailers for their entire school career.
I specifically asked that a new elementary school be built along the Buford Highway Corridor. I asked for the district to add capacity to the Dunwoody cluster, where elementary school trailers have been sitting for more than a decade, the middle school was built too small over parent objections in e-SPLOST III, and the high school isn’t prepared for the growing number of classrooms it will soon need.
I see a pattern in past e-SPLOSTs that left children, teachers, and taxpayers worse-off in aggregate despite the almost $2 billion we all paid to improve and expand our county’s schools. This pattern has existed across multiple superintendents. Despite the spending and relatively stable student population (hovering around +/-100K students), the use of trailers has grown over the years. The building needs also grow over the years because of your assets receive almost no maintenance and care.
All the spending to improve the learning environment has done little to improve academic aggregate outcomes in DeKalb. In addition to the poor aggregate achievement levels in DeKalb Schools, the one other consistent feature of the district has been the administrative staff. Yes, each new superintendent has brought in a few new people. Some of them have been a welcome change. Unfortunately, the district is plagued by the quiet undercurrent of perennial administrators that have been influential across multiple superintendents. And, no one should be shocked to learn that the exact same two outside consulting firms that brought you the last e-SPLOST debacle are also providing the guidance for e-SPLOST V.
These same failed administrators are now quietly advising the new superintendent behind the scenes and designing e-SPLOST V. Why should we expect anything different from the same people who have been so consistently incompetent, wrong, and biased? On what basis could anyone believe they should be the architects of the next e-SPLOST program? There’s a word for doing the same thing and expecting different results.
I call the current approach for e-SPLOST V, the “Kitchen Sink” referendum. Every school in DeKalb is listed as a potential for everything. The message:
“Vote for e-SPLOST V because you might get a new school. Or you might get an upgrade. Or nothing. But you have to play to find out. Go ahead, spin the wheel, and let’s see what DeKalb has in store for you. What could go wrong? And remember – It’s for the children.”
Yep, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink language right onto your May 24th ballot. The usual list of naïve and political operators are out there trying to rally support for this ridiculous referendum. There are the Charlie Browns who keep trying to kick that ball even as the rest of us know Lucy is going to yank that ball away every time. There’s the shrewd political types who received promises behind closed doors that their interests will be protected.
Hope is not a method and backroom deals are proof that e-SPLOST has never been about children. It certainly has never even been as simple as trying to put permanent roofs over our students’ heads. It’s been run by the same people with the same failed track record for years.
DeKalb Schools have seen their operating and capital coffers swell with your money as the economy has recovered. Very little has trickled down to the classroom. With all the resources that are at hand, their shouldn’t be a leaky roof, a broken HVAC system, moldy ceiling tiles, or the need for parents to send in basic cleaning supplies. But, sadly, these situations remain.
It needs to be stated and discussed that the school district has morphed, e-SPLOST, into a maintenance program as well. Even worse, the district spends your taxes on new capital projects that it doesn’t maintain. The school district should be dedicating millage to maintenance so that this cost is not shifted to an e-SPLOST program. This protects your investment.
• Until the school district replaces the failed administrators that have brought us to this low point;
• Until the school district gives us a concrete schedule of building projects for e-SPLOST V;
• Until the school district ends it’s opaque, uncooperative attitude, until the school district properly attends to the maintenance of the assets it already has;
Just say NO to this tax. The district will only make change when the spigot is turned off for a while. I’m voting no until the school district cleans up its act and gives me a firm project list. To vote otherwise is to embolden the incompetent bureaucrats who have brought you here and enable the continued trend of putting special, political interests ahead of what is in the best interests of children and taxpayers.
Key Stakeholder Meeting Dates
March – June: public meetings on Secondary School Facility Planning and Feasibility Study
July – September: Public meetings on systems and proposed project selection criteria
September: Five regional meetings to discuss draft of project list
Nov. 5: DeKalb Board of Education to discuss detailed project list and schedule
Dec. 7: Board is expected to approve final project list
July 1, 2017: Sales tax collections begin E-SPLOST history in DeKalb County
The school sales tax has been approved each time it has been voted on since 1997
Where the money went
1997-2002: ($415 million) Constructed ten new schools; added multipurpose buildings at each elementary school; modified existing facilities
2002-2007: ($457 million) Constructed 11 new schools; made modifications across the district including major renovations of ten middle/high schools
2007-2012: ($489 million) Replaced one high school; provided 12 major renovations/additions, and 140 minor renovations
2012-2017: (est. $492 million) Replaced seven elementary schools and two middle/high schools; provided five major renovations/additions; made stadium improvements, technology upgrades, school bus purchases, and capital renewal of many facilities
A rendering of the redevelopment at the site of the former GM plant near I-285 and I-85.
Earlier this month WABE 90.1 took a Closer Look with DeKalb School Board Chair, Dr. Melvin Johnson, at the financing of the GM Plant site.
In “TAD Talk“, Commissioner Nancy Jester characterized the interview as striking because of the blatantly false statements made by the Chair of the Board or Education and his refusal to understand the basics of school finance, how a TAD works, and the financial realities of the project.
A few days ago WABE 90.1’s Martha Dalton and Rose Scott took a Closer Look with Egbert Perry and Eric Pinckney, developers of the Doraville GM Plant site. Here is an excerpt: Rose Scott (Cohost of WABE 90.1 Closer Look) – Straighten some of that out for us. What do you think has been misrepresented? Egbert Perry (CEO of The Integral Group) – No one is asking the school board or any other jurisdiction to fund this project. This project was bought 100% with private dollars. All of the vertical development, and infrastructure within the footprint of the project that is private, will be funded with private dollars.
We are asking to use a tool that has been used 10,000 times or more successfully across the country to fund public infrastructure. That is roads, public utilities, public parks, a connection to transit. People think the site is connected to transit. It’s close to transit, but to get there you have to drive in a car a mile to get to it even though the transit stop is just across the tracks.
That’s what the funding is for. It doesn’t make its way to the developer. There’s no mechanism by which we would ever get a penny of those dollars. That has not been made clear. There has been a lot said to suggest that this is funding a private project or developer. That’s not legally possible and an important clarification. Rose Scott/Marth Dalton– I haven’t heard anyone from the school board say they have questions about where the money will go, it’s more of a question the money is coming from the school district. Can you understand that argument? Egbert Perry – Absolutely not. At this time, the school board collects a few hundred thousand dollars every year from the GM site. They have gotten that year in and year out for 8+ years the site has been sitting undeveloped. It’s undeveloped because of the absence of public infrastructure.
What the TAD does is allow you to use your vision of what you can do with the site to fund public infrastructure using private dollars, but all of the increase in taxes that you create first go to repay for that public infrastructure that was funded.
Then the school system, the city and the county start to receive windfall profits because of new tax revenues that have been generated by the development. So, the development is what is generating the dollars to fund the public infrastructure.
At no time does the school board ever reach into its pockets or coffers to fund anything. All it has is upside, it just delays how soon the upside kicks in because the infrastructure has to be funded before the nets start to flow to the district.
You can read the entire transcript here >>
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” — Frederick Douglass
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”