A parents’ group has decided against submitting a letter of intent to try to start a charter school cluster in Dunwoody next year.

Instead, leaders of Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education said they will help create a new, separate organization to pursue creating a charter school cluster.

The parents’ group, also known as Concerned Parents of Dunwoody, had discussed submitting the letter of intent to county and state officials by the deadline to request a charter cluster.

But organizers of Concerned Parents, a nonprofit organization created to work to improve the community’s schools, told about 50 people attending the group’s April 28 meeting at Dunwoody United Methodist Church that they couldn’t get agreement on the plan from representatives of all Dunwoody’s schools, so they decided to wait.

“It was impractical to try to do it at the speed we were trying to do it,” Concerned Parents organizer Robert Wittenstein said. “This is a more sane approach.”

Concerned Parents’ leaders said they will help organize the new group to address the charter cluster effort.

“What we’re trying to do is set the lanes up for people to get into,” Concerned Parents chairwoman Allegra Johnson said. “From that, the charter school committee will come. We’re just trying to start the wheels turning, saying, ‘We’ve got to do it now.’”

The new group should include representatives from all of Dunwoody’s schools, Wittenstein said. “We’re going to try get it started … but we will not be in charge,” he said. “It has to be done by folks who are put in charge by the schools.”

The earliest the new group could submit a request for a charter cluster would be in February 2014, Wittenstein said.

Individual charter schools and charter school systems have existed for years in Georgia, but a charter school cluster is a relatively new concept. Charter schools and systems typically are turned over to local control and freed from some state or county regulations in hopes of fostering innovation. In return, the charter schools or systems are required to show academic improvement.

A charter cluster would create local governance for all the schools in a group clustered around a particular high school, such as Dunwoody High School.

Wittenstein said creating a charter cluster in Dunwoody would have given the city schools “a measure of independence” within the DeKalb County school system as elected officials and residents pursue legislative efforts to create a separate city school system.

Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) has introduced legislation to allow cities such as Dunwoody that have been created since 2005 to create their own school systems or to combine with other new or adjacent cities to set up school systems.

The Concerned Parents group has commissioned a feasibility study to determine whether Dunwoody could support its own system and to look at how a Dunwoody system would affect DeKalb schools, Wittenstein said. The group planned to contract with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and a Georgia Tech professor to conduct the study, he said.

“Frankly, guys, we shouldn’t hold our breath on feasibility. It should be evident to everybody a community like Dunwoody would have the wherewithal to support a school system,” Wittenstein said.

The study also will look at the effect the creation of a Dunwoody school system could have on the remainder of the DeKalb county system. Dunwoody’s system could take in about 7,000 students and about 7 percent of the property owners paying taxes toward the system, he said.

“If we take our students out and we take our money out, that will have a negative impact on DeKalb,” he said, “and we want to quantify that.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.