By Pat Fox
The campaign for a separate Dunwoody school system got a boost Sunday when State Rep. Tom Taylor released findings of a new study showing that local tax dollars could easily fund the enterprise.
Taylor (R – Dunwoody) told a crowd of about 40 members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association during its Oct. 6 meeting that, if taxes were left at the same rate, a local school system could operate with a surplus of cash, possibly more than $20 million.
“The surplus under the current millage rate and the current cost that you would see would exceed the City of Dunwoody’s annual budget,” Taylor said.
Right now, Dunwoody residents pay a property tax rate of 2.74 mills to fund city government. They are taxed at 23.98 mills to pay for DeKalb County schools.
The study was commissioned by Dunwoody City Council earlier this year and was prepared by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Tech. Details of the report, which cost about $22,000, will not be released until it is presented to City Council, Taylor said.
Since 1983, the state constitution has not allowed for the creation of any new school districts in Georgia. The idea of a separate Dunwoody system popped up last year when City Councilman Terry Nall proposed studying the idea. The City Council voted 7-0 to fund the study.
Taylor’s legislation, HR 486, would allow recently incorporated cities to form either a separate city school district or form a cluster district that would include the city and could cross county lines. Amending the constitution to allow the city school systems would require 120 votes in the house and a 2/3 majority in the senate.
The DeKalb School District, the third largest in the state, has been plagued with recent problems.
Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended six of the nine sitting members of the school board after the district was placed on probation amid allegations of financial mismanagement, nepotism and meddling in administrative matters.
With a new school board election scheduled in May, Taylor said there’s a chance some of the ousted members could win back their seats. It is vital to drum up support for the legislation before May, he said.
“We need people to show up at hearings,” Taylor said. “We need people with kids in schools.”
State Sen. Fran Miller, who also attended Sunday night’s meeting at the DeKalb Cultural Arts Center, said the biggest pushback will probably come from school boards throughout the state.
“Once you get outside the metro area, they and hospitals are the two biggest employers, and they don’t want to give up any power,” said Miller (R-Atlanta).
Even with the legislation tailored to suit only cities formed since 2005, Miller said school boards will still consider the move a threat.
But there was no dissent among Dunwoody residents Sunday.
Bob Lundsten said the campaign should be broadened outside Dunwoody to include other newly incorporated cities, like Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Milton and Johns Creek.
“I think you need to have this groundswell effort in other cities,” he said.
Parent Erika Harris said the research she has read shows a smaller school district benefits students.
“As a parent, I am complete for a local school district,” she said. “I think DeKalb is far oversized to meet students’ individual needs.”