Saturday, May 28, 2011

DeKalb Reveals Plans for SPLOST IV

DeKalb School Board met the Friday before Memorial Day to announce plans on how they'd spend new tax dollars in the event voters approve SPLOST IV. They also teased us on a SPLOST V and even SPLOST VI.  That's sorta like advertising Rocky V when Rocky hasn't even fought Apollo Creed.

We just endured a nasty redistricting and school closure episode in DeKalb.  All the schools closing are on the south side of the county.  We have more butts than seats on the north side.  So where should we build new schools?  On the south side, of course. LOL.  It seems as the school system planners have a "Build It and They Will Come" mentality.  People are deserting south DeKalb in big numbers and schools in Dunwoody are old and overcrowded (except our new DES, home of the Tigers!).

But south DeKalb has many old elementary schools, most of them small.  Does it make sense to build four new large elementary schools then close eight (small) old ones?   Probably.  Is that what the people in south DeKalb want?  Probably not. But the larger schools are more cost effective to operate and the state funding system caters to the mega school.  Gwinnett has mastered the funding game and DeKalb trying to play catch up.  If you want to keep smaller schools, get state legislators to change the funding system.

Keep in mind, education in DeKalb (and in Georgia and in the USA) is about money, not about what is best for educating children.  Schools are a $1.5 billion dollar industry in DeKalb. Our schools are not looked at as institutions to prepare great scholars and leaders. To many, the DeKalb schools are a place to employ their friends, relatives, fellow parishioners, and college fraternity/sorority brothers/sisters. The schools are a place to get benefits and fat pensions.  The schools are a place to sell books and a place to obtain funds to use for personal trips and even gasoline for your wife's car. I've never seen the county have a study on what learning environment is best for the school system's demographics, and never will.

Go HERE for the slide show presentation.  It gets a little confusing as it mentions Phase 2, Phase 3, Phase 4, and funding comes from SPLOST IV, SPLOST V, etc.  To make things less confusing, the "Phases" should be numbered to match the ""SPLOST" with the same numerical value.

How will this affect Dunwoody?  I'll start with the easiest first - middle school.  No plans for renovations or additions at Peachtree Middle, no plans for a new middle school. Of course every year the school system will look at enrollment and projections and make adjustments.  I think we need more middle school capacity in upcoming years, but we'll wait a few years and see.  Just know that Peachtree will remain as is and will be the sole middle school for at least the next ten years.

Ditto for Dunwoody High School.  Dunwoody just got a face lift so it's good-to-go for a decade or so. However, with a new, larger Chamblee High School being built, attendance areas for Chamblee may expand, picking up kids currently zoned for Dunwoody.  

Now on to Dunwoody's favorite topic, elementary schools.  The school system rated schools on current conditions.  Vanderlyn scored in the upper 60's, making it ineligible for renovations or a rebuild.  Vanderlyn stays as is until the school system's Phase 4 (not SPLOST IV), which is year 2023 and beyond.  As is the case for all schools, the evaluation/inspection will be performed again so if a school deteriorates and rates low, things can change. The Vandy Posse rides again.  Remodel the house, plant new sod, add a zip line to the backyard.  Vandy is good to go for another 10-15 years as is. No tear down, no new school.

Chesnut, Austin, and Kingsley all scored under a "60" and are eligible for "limited renovations" under SPLOST IV.  I think 'limited renovations' means the school system with patch-fix things enough to keep students and teachers safe, but don't expect much.  What about a rebuild for any of these schools? No.

Am I mad that Austin got a 54.22, just .22 lower and we'd be looking at a new school?  No, I'm glad.  Sorta like being glad that your middle or high school don't meet AYP and become eligible for transfers.

Who should be mad with this plan?  If you want a new, state-of-the art 900 desk school built in Georgetown area (to replace an aging Austin) you should be upset.  If you want Austin as is for a few more years (I'd say five years at most before Austin is swapped or sold to the city and turned into the 'new' Spruill Arts Center or raised for a park) then be happy the school 'earned' a 54.22 overall score.

Same goes for Chesnut and Kingsley.  Your schools are old and need replaced.  You'll see a few bandages here and there on the old structures, but look for a school like DES in SPLOST V, in say the year 2018.  Like the cozy 500-kid school?  Enjoy it while you can.  Want something new and shiny like DES?  You'll have to wait a few years.

So why no new elementary schools in Dunwoody?  Blame it (or give thanks) on Chamblee High School.  SPLOST IV is a $475 million shopping list.  DeKalb is divided into seven (7) clusters.  $475 million  divided by 7 = $68 million per cluster.  Chamblee High School will cost $60 million.  That doesn't leave much cheese on the plate.  Do some 'limited' renovations to Austin, Kingsley, and Chesnut and Cluster 1 is at its limit. That $60 million dollar high school costs the same as three new elementary schools. Tough luck, Dunwoody.  Chamblee High is falling apart, and it's in our cluster.  many think Chamblee's new school already has funding.  That's not the case.  it is part of SPLOST IV.  If no SPLOST, the school will still be built.

What?  You said the $475 million should be divided up by needs not the zone?  Nope, that's not the way this is going down folks.

As it is written, getting Dunwoody voters to approve a SPLOST IV may be a tough chore.  Perhaps the county office doesn't realize us folks in Dunwoody will be headed to the polls in big numbers in November to approve Sunday beer and wine sales at our local Publix. Oh, and we'll elect a new mayor and vote on three council spots as well. In summary, expect a decent turn out in Dunwoody.  But FarmHousers alone will not sway this vote. 

A couple of months ago I wrote here that Dunwoody would soon be home to three elementary schools.  That still looks to be the case based on today's plan.  The plan calls for a new school in our area in Phase 3, year 2018.  Based on current scores Austin is the lowest and most likely to be replaced (not remodeled).  DES is the model you'll see duplicated.  One DES type school will be built to serve the west side of Dunwoody (from way north at Redfield down to 285.)  The east side will see its own DES type school, combining Chesnut and Kingsley. A vertical map would then make more sense.  Perhaps some local map creators were just a little ahead of their time on that vertical thing. Maybe Austin PTA will invest in doors for classrooms instead of Smart boards, sod and playgrounds next year, trying to boost that 54 to a 64.

The old Chamblee Middle School site will be sold soon according to the report today.  That site is about nine acres.  Not quite big enough for a school, but nice location for a park or a city hall or maybe something other than a school.  But those hoping for a school there - forget about it.

So, should you vote for SPLOST?  If SPLOST is voted down, will the Homestead Exemption be lowered and the tax rate raised to get the funds for new school projects?  Under a SPLOST, everyone spending money in DeKalb pays a penny per dollar spent.  If no SPLOST, then homeowners will pay more in taxes. If you don't want new schools built, then I suppose you vote no on SPLOST.  You won't stop all construction, but you will decrease it a lot.  Some things have to be done to maintain somewhat decent schools. The system has lots of needs and wants, but will enough voters agree with their list?

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