The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative has been working on the BuHi Master Plan for a while now. Their study has been commissioned separate from that of the DeKalb County School District’s Secondary Schools Planning and Feasibility Study.

On Wednesday, the LCI team released their preliminary findings of their area, and I was a bit surprised by some of their analyses and recommendations. Most notably: the Buford Highway corridor population has remained relatively stagnant over the past few years, and they project that it will stay that way for at least the next several years.

population-levels-stagnant
Population Projections through 2021 (LCI)

Interestingly, their recommendations are similar to those of the expert planners in DCSD. While they do suggest that the corridor plan for the “continued densification” (more people) of BuHi, they also suggest that development be planned “for the long term in phases.”

buhi-points

Why is this important? The current SPLOST V project list set to be approved on Monday, December 5, at the DeKalb County Board of Education business meeting, proposes building an expanded Cross Keys HS and making additions at Chamblee HS, Lakeside HS, and Dunwoody HS. In my opinion, this reflects incremental development, something which is encouraged by external urban and transportation planners. I wonder if DCSD has seen this Master Plan?

We are an Urban School District

To be fair, I understand where Chamblee, Dunwoody, and Lakeside parents are coming from when they voice concern about the site space for these expansions. In Georgia, the recommendation for schools are as follows:

High School 20 acres (+1 acre for every 100 students)
i.e. 1000 students = 30 acres
Middle School 12 acres (+1 acre for every 100 students)
i.e. 1000 students = 22 acres
Elementary School 5 acres (+1 acre for every 100 students)
i.e. 1000 students = 15 acres

In DeKalb, as in other urban districts, waivers from the State Department of Education are needed since space isn’t as readily available as in rural districts.

I think we need to realize that DeKalb is an urban school district (like Gwinnett is technically). I’m not saying we should be like Gwinnett with 3800_+ students in a high school, but I am saying that our high schools might need to increase its capacity above 1600. As such, we also need to realize that 40 acres for a 2000-student high school is becoming unrealistic.

In Gwinnett County — a county district that, for example, added 4,000 students from the 2013 to 2014 school years — they have to adjust quickly to these changes. Obviously there is more land available in Gwinnett; however, they also address these booms in enrollment by using SPLOST dollars to build additions.

splost-iv-gwinnett

Redistricting and building additions must become more common

We, as a district that is growing once again, need to learn from the example of Gwinnett County Public Schools by becoming more nimble. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s just take a look at the redistricting process that took place this past year in Gwinnett. Below is their 3-month timeline from announcement of the redistricting to the BOE approval.

Gwinnett Redistricting.JPGAnd this wasn’t for just a small number of students. 6800 current students and 31 schools were affected by this regular redistricting. We in DeKalb have grown accustomed to the idea that when we move into a certain neighborhood, that means we will be guaranteed attendance at a specific school in its (generally) specific state. However, that mindset must change in our county if we are to keep up with fluctuating enrollment trends (and 21st century demands).

“Decisions are wholly within the discretion of local school boards”

I know that this is not redistricting per se, but obviously attendance lines are going to change, and that is one of the reasons that people have been frustrated with this SPLOST V project list. In the case of McNeil v. Whitfield Board of Education, the courts ruled in favor of the BOE stating that “decisions are wholly within the discretion of local school boards.” Since the appellants in this case had received the opportunity to dissent before the vote was made, the courts ruled in favor of the local BOE, stating that they retained discretion when making their final decision.

I say this because it appears that in DeKalb, we believe that we the public should be able to determine what the school board decides, and for many years, that was unfortunately the case. In the past, parents have been able to use their political sway to get the BOE to accommodate them — much to the detriment of those less politically savvy and persuasive.

What is trust?

Our school district has been much more generous with opportunities for public comment than has GCPS. Dr. Green did not have to provide as many community input sessions as he did, yet we have had 20 of them.

Perhaps we could take a lesson from Gwinnett. Granted, GCPS has a longer standing reputation of excellence with their constituents than DCSD has with theirs. But to this I would ask that we give our current administration and his cabinet a chance to begin a new era in DeKalb County Schools. We need to let our planners, superintendent, and BOE members utilize their professional judgment when deciding how to run the school district. After we have made our voice heard, we need to trust the school district to carry out its duties. If we see that DCSD still can’t be trusted (as it couldn’t for many years), then we need to reevaluate our actions.

At this time, however, we need to put aside our fears and give the new administration a chance to prove itself as competent and reliable. It should encourage us that it seems the administration is not dissuaded by the loud voices of a *few* disgruntled parent groups because it shows that they are acting in, what they believe, is the best interest of all of our children. (I know that might not seem comforting to many, but I’m an optimist — this is a good thing!)

The major difference between me and those who support the #DeferTheVote effort is that I (perhaps naively) want to give the planners and administration my trust. We will have ample time to be involved in the finer details of the additions (especially with regard to space concerns with band rooms, the cafeteria, the art rooms, etc.) My only challenge to DCSD is, since they have been entrusted with providing our children an excellent, diverse education, that they address the legitimate concerns regarding the common spaces and site capacity.

Anyone ready to approve a GO (general obligation) bond? 🙂