Monday, May 21, 2012

DeKalb SPLOST Schedule Announced

Although only a draft, the DeKalb School System has put forth a draft of how SPLOST dollars will be spent in the county over the next five years.

Of note is nothing will be done at Peachtree during this current SPLOST.  Projections show a new middle school is needed (or an expansion at the least), but keep in mind SPLOST dollars are distributed equally to each board member's district, not distributed to where funds are needed to improve the schools and help the children.  After all, how can you pass a SPLOST referendum unless voters can easily answer the question, "What's in it for me?"

Expect four to six more trailers to arrive at Peachtree over the summer.

And the big ticket item in the Dunwoody cluster is the new Austin Elementary School.  The questions loom - when and where?  We now know the 'when' - ground breaking in March 2016 with a completion date of June 2018.  For those with kids in the Austin area, if you will have a kid in Pre-K next school year (August), your child will conclude elementary school in a new building, as a 5th grader.  For those of you with kids in Pre-K through 5th grade now, this means nothing.  For those of you with kids wearing diapers or pull-ups, what is your elementary school today may not be your elementary school when its time to send them off for a DeKalb education. 

One thing we know is Peachtree and Dunwoody will always be your kids' middle and high school (unless Chamblee picks up a few areas).  The middle school and high school are more important for your kid's development than the elementary school, but many in Dunwoody are fixated on elementary schools only for some reason. 

I don't see the new school being moved up in the schedule.  The superintendent wants to 'pay as we go' and all the new schools are pushed toward the end of the SPLOST project.  This allows the tax dollars to build up over the next few years.

Will the school system run out of SPLOST funds before the schools are built?  I doubt it.  I think the Accounting 101 lesson was learned this go around.  Of course a slumping economy could keep sales tax collections to a minimum and leave us with less money than projected, but I don't think that will occur.  The shortfall from last SPLOST was due to a failure to make (and account for) interest payments and it looks like the system will not be borrowing heavily on future collections (unless a new school board, after the next round of elections) changes its mind.

Back to Austin.  Where will it be built?  I expect it to be rebuilt on the same site, being built up.  The school system would have liked the old hospital site, but that 19 acre spot is now part of Project Renaissance and off the table.  Anyone else aware of 20 acres in the north Dunwoody area?

The Austin rebuild will affect more than the current Austin district.  No matter where the replacement school is built, we'll get to endure another episode of drawing of the elementary school lines.  I see some Vanderlyn and some DES students being moved to the new Austin and possibly new lines for Chesnut and Kingsley as well.  If by chance a new site is secured for a new Austin (south of Mt Vernon) expect a massive redistricting to take place.

The best answer is to keep Austin where it is, and build a new 'Austin' elsewhere in the city, perhaps in or near the PCID area.  This makes the best use of the money.  Replacing Austin for $20 million adds about 400 seats to an over-crowded cluster. That's $50,000 per new seat.  Build a new school (add $8 million for land and $2 million for old-Austin improvements) and you add 1000 seats at a cost of $30,000 per seat.

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