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?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Nancy Jester and Board Bring Lacrosse to Dunwoody

Big thanks today to Nancy Jester, Ramona Tyson, others on the school board, and the county office The right decision was made today and lacrosse teams from Dunwoody, Arabia Mountain, and perhaps a couple other schools will take to the field next fall.

Parents and students need commended as well.  They kept their cool, presented their case, and got results; a great example for others to follow.

Dunwoody Patch guy has no Memorial Day weekend plans so he blogged about the event here: Patch

Perhaps Dunwoody will produce some All-Americans and future NCAA champions on the lacrosse field.  Dunwoody has some old-timer lacrosse legends living within our borders, circa late 1980's early 1990's.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lacrosse at Arabia Mountain in DeKalb?

While doing research on the Dunwoody lacrosse issue I took a glance over at the GHSA web site.  You can do the same.  Click HERE.

Look over on the right side of the web page where it shows the high schools and divisions.

Dunwoody parents and students were told self-funding was a no-no and that if they (the school district) allowed Dunwoody to have sanctioned lacrosse teams, then other schools would want teams and the county school district would be obligated to foot the bill.  Well, turns out, the Arabia Mountain High School (a beautiful campus with great academics) in south DeKalb is SANCTIONED already by GHSA.  They did not field a team, but they are sanctioned.  Arabia Mountain is only a couple of years old, so it's hard to believe someone (perhaps the person telling Dunwoody kids "No") was not aware of Arabia Mountain's sanctioned boys' and girls' lacrosse teams.

I have no issue with Arabia Mountain being sanctioned.  Hopefully they will have enough student interest next year to field a team.  The issue I do have is Dunwoody not being allowed to be sanctioned.

Look for Dunwoody lacrosse to get county approval within the next week or two.  Kids, practice this summer 'cause it looks like you'll be in Area 4 playing Marist and St. Pius X.


BOYS LACROSSE - CLASS AAAA/AAA/AA/A
AREA 1
Grady
Holy Innocents'
Lovett
McIntosh
Northgate
Pace Academy
Starr's Mill
Whitefield Academy
Whitewater
Woodward Academy
AREA 2
Allatoona
Darlington
Kell
Mt. Paran Christian
North Springs
Pope
Riverwood
River Ridge
Sprayberry
Westminster
AREA 3
Blessed Trinity
Chattahoochee
Fellowship Christian
Gainesville
Greater Atlanta Christian
Johns Creek
Lambert
Riverside Military
South Forsyth
Wesleyan
AREA 4
Arabia Mountain
Decatur
Greenbrier
Lakeside, Evans
Marist
North Atlanta
St. Pius X

GIRLS LACROSSE - CLASS AAAA/AAA/AA/A
AREA 1
Columbus
Grady
Holy Innocents'
Lovett
McIntosh
Northgate
Pace Academy
Starr's Mill
Tri-Cities
Whitewater
Woodward Academy 
AREA 2
Allatoona
Darlington
Kell
Mt. Paran
North Springs
Pope
Riverwood
River Ridge
Sprayberry
Westminster
AREA 3
Blessed Trinity
Chattahoochee
Fellowship Christian
Forsyth Central
Gainesville
Greater Atlanta Christian
Johns Creek
Lambert
South Forsyth
Wesleyan 
AREA 4
Arabia Mountain
Decatur
Greenbrier
Lakeside, Evans
Marist
North Atlanta
Rockdale County
St. Pius X

Dunwoody Needs to Save Money and You Need to be Prepared

Recent events in the USA have shown us how vulnerable we (as a city and as individuals) are in regards to weather-related events.  From destructive wild fires in Texas to tornadoes in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, etc. people's lives have been forever altered.
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel


What can you do personally to prepare?  There are plenty of books and blogs out there with instructions on things to keep around the house.  My first suggestion is a fire-rated safe for documents (birth certificates, insurance policies, car titles, at least one bank statement per account, at least one statement per other money/retirement accounts, etc.).  I think it's also a good idea to back up computer stuff (including all those digital photos) to an external hard drive and keep it in the safe.  Find a floor safe that can be anchored to your floor. Although we are fairly safe from a tsunami here in Dunwoody, here's a story about safes washed  ashore in Japan. A tornado that rips off your roof could turn your metal safe into a Frisbee.  Take the extra time and secure it to a concrete floor.

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The biggest demand for people in the tornado-stricken area is fresh drinking water.  Go to Costco and buy a few cases of bottled water (and also buy it in the gallon jug size).  Keep two cases per person in stock, and rotate your stock as needed.  I think it's a good idea to have a water purification plan in place.  Consider buying a Katadyn brand water filter.  I suggest the Katadyn Pocket.  For those of you who hike and camp, it's a worthwhile purchase.  Food?  Water is way more important than food, but you'll need to eat in the event it takes a couple of days to get supply chains in order. Canned goods is all you need.  Canned soups store well and provide nourishment and fluids both (put a can opener in your safe).

What about our city?  How can/should city leaders prepare?  Number one is having money in the bank.  Although there are Federal Government programs out there in case of emergencies (declared disasters) why put your fate in the hands of the Feds?  FEMA seems quick to act to disasters outside the USA, but many complain of slow domestic response times.  The US Government spent $44.9 BILLION in foreign aid in fiscal year 2009.  $11 billion for military, $33.9 billion in economic assistance.  $44 billion would go a long way in rebuilding Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and other areas. But let's get back to reality. 

If disaster hits Dunwoody I'm sure we'd witness hundreds of volunteers showing up to aid residents.  But what about rebuilding infrastructure?  Could we hire crews to clear roads, repave roads, and fix storm-water systems?  Having a nice reserve on hand makes sense when Federal Government red tape would hinder quick progress.  I'm not suggesting the city stash $20 million under a mattress, waiting for a tornado.  Other needs may present themselves.  Just as a family should have perhaps a year's worth of reserves in the bank (is that what Clark Howard says?) the city should maintain a bit of a surplus.  Of course we need not go to the extreme of raising taxes to simply build an enormous reserve.  But many in our city are rightfully questioning the need/want of the city to take on over $100 million in debt for parks.

I'd like to see some basic improvements to our parks, no doubt.  But I don't see the need for residents to bankroll the building of a baseball complex to the tune of $8 million.  Our county taxes are increasing, as is your water bill.  The school board may do the same. Let's secure the $7 million DeKalb owes us for Brook Run and use those funds as required (for Brook Run). $7 million will not build a baseball complex for metro Atlanta's needs, but it will be enough for basic improvements and ongoing maintenance.