Fran Millar
Fran Millar

A Dunwoody lawmaker and the DeKalb school superintendent are battling publicly over whether the planned May vote on a special sales tax for schools will be constitutional.

Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) argues that the ballot language proposed for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax vote on May 24 isn’t specific enough. He called for the system to delay the vote until next year.

“Bottom line, I believe a legal challenge to your planned approach has a good chance of being successful,” Millar wrote in an open letter to DeKalb Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green that was dated April 14.

In a response, dated April 19, Green argues the language in the proposed ballot question adopted by the school board is specific enough to meet legal requirements.

“In our view, sufficient description has been provided to meet the constitutional requirement,” Green wrote in his letter to Millar. “The capital projects are specifically described, serve educational purposes and are all for the clear benefit of DeKalb county students. We are not aware of any constitutional provision, statute, case law or attorney general opinion that contradicts our view under these descriptions.”

DeKalb County Superintendent Stephen Green

In his letter, Green said the SPLOST funds would pay for safety and security systems such as improving surveillance systems and fire alarms; new facilities and additions to school buildings; improvements to school buildings such as new roofs, wiring, painting or heating and air-conditioning systems; Enterprise Resource Planning upgrades and technology improvements; purchasing buses and other capital equipment such as desks; and expenses related to the projects.

He said similarly-worded SPLOST resolutions had been adopted in the past.

School officials have said the tax, a renewal of the existing penny sales tax, is expected to raise about $600 million for DeKalb schools over its five-year life. They told members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association in February that individual projects to be paid for by the tax would likely be determined by the school board in December, after consultation with parents.

Millar, who said in his letter he had supported previous education sale taxes, said he had received numerous complaints about the school systems’ “category proposal” and that had conferred with the state Attorney General’s office, state Legislative counsel and a lawyer representing former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, about it.

He also wrote that problems with the DeKalb vote could have an influence on similar votes in Atlanta and Fulton County. “By not enumerating specific projects, DeKalb may also influence whether Atlanta and Fulton (which did it right) will be affected,” he wrote, noting he has sent copies of his letter to the superintendents of Atlanta Public Schools and the Fulton County School System.

On Feb. 1, the DeKalb Board of Education approved a joint resolution with Atlanta Public Schools and City Schools of Decatur placing the proposed fifth ESPLOST to voters on May 24. If approved, collection of funds would begin in July and end in June 2022.

The budget for the new or replacement schools and additions is $230 million, Hudson said. The amount of the $230 million that would go to Cross Keys will be decided in the fall, after the May vote and after the Secondary School Feasibility and Planning Study that will look at the middle and high schools in the overcrowded clusters of Cross Keys, Dunwoody, Chamblee, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Tucker and Clarkston.

Millar said DeKalb should put off the SPLOST vote until next year so specific projects could be listed. “Hopefully, you can act in a prompt manner and void the potential disaster,” he said.

But Green argued that “it is critical that voters make the final decision on whether this SPLOST is worthy. If they believe they do have adequate information, they may vote “yes.” If the voters do not believe they have adequate information on the projects to be funded, then the voters may vote “no” to the SPLOST. No matter what, the voters should not be disenfranchised, deprived of an opportunity to make their voices heard.”

–Dyana Bagby contributed to this report.

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.