A presentation of a long-term plan for better school facilities prompted more questions than answers during a DeKalb County School District meeting on Monday.
The planning process for the Comprehensive Master Plan, which is DeKalb County’s effort to mitigate overcrowding and update school facilities, began in August of 2020. A draft of the plan has been available since December 2021, and the DeKalb County School Board of Education received a presentation of the plan during its Jan. 10 meeting. The plan includes recommendations such as constructing new school buildings, moving some schools to different clusters, and expanding some elementary schools to serve grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
The master plan presentation posted to the district’s website suggests many changes for Dunwoody and Brookhaven students. The plan suggests moving Ashford Park Elementary School from the Chamblee Cluster to the Cross Keys Cluster, and building a new Ashford Park Elementary School sometime during 2026-2030. Hightower Elementary School would be moved into the Chamblee Cluster. A new Cross Keys High School would be built sometime from 2022-2025. Austin Elementary School and the new elementary school planned for 4680 Chamblee Dunwoody Road might be converted into K-8 schools.
The plan also suggests the creation of a new cluster called the Sequoyah Cluster, which would be predicated on the construction of a Sequoyah High School. That new cluster would include an eventual consolidation of Cary Reynolds Elementary School and Dresden Elementary School at the Dresden site, and would also include Oakcliff Elementary School and Doraville United Elementary School.
During the Jan. 10 meeting, the district’s Director of Planning Hans Williams said that all of the recommendations listed in the Comprehensive Master Plan would require separate processes to be fully implemented, whether that be further board action or public engagement.
“The recommendations aren’t necessarily what the district is absolutely committing to right away,” Williams said.
School board members had numerous questions about how the list is prioritized and funded. According to the presentation, funding sources for the plan include the school district’s Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) V, E-SPLOST VI – which voters passed with 81% approval in 2021 – the not yet funded E-SPLOST VII, and money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
District 1 Board Member Anna Hill expressed concern over projects that have been delayed through different continuations of E-SPLOST, and said she thought it was “presumptuous” to assume E-SPLOST VII would pass into effect.
“This is the taxpayer dollars. They give us permission. This is not our money,” Hill said. “We are trustees of these funds. So I … am concerned about how we’re going to address these gaps in the meantime.”
Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said there are plans to introduce an E-SPLOST dashboard where residents will be able to keep track of the status of all projects funded by E-SPLOST. She did not give a date for the creation of this dashboard.
One of the major focuses of the master plan is the creation of K-8 schools as a means to try and alleviate overcrowding, help stop attrition in middle schools, and allow for continuity in education. Williams said this would mostly lessen overcrowding in middle schools by expanding an elementary school in an area that has available space.
Hill asked if the district would share the data they’ve compiled on K-8 schools so people could understand how that decision was made. Over the course of the meeting, Williams repeatedly said the master plan recommendations aren’t set in stone, and in the case of K-8 schools, a larger conversation was needed. Because of the need for more discussion, Williams said the new elementary school on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road would not be initially built as a K-8 school, but would have the potential to be converted into one.
“I think what’s really most important is for this district to have that conversation – what does K-8 really mean to the DeKalb County School District,” Williams said. “I think that’s why some of the data hasn’t come out yet, because what’s really come out of the CMP is this need for the larger conversation.”
Hill and other board members also pointed out the complexity of the Comprehensive Master Plan presentation, and requested it be made simpler so residents have an easier time understanding.
“Here we are trying to give the information to the board in hopes of a vote in February, when all it’s divulging is more questions,” said Board Chair Vicki Turner. “And I stand to say that if the board has these kinds of questions, I promise you our stakeholders have them.”
District 2 Board Member Marshall Orson suggested holding a separate meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Master Plan rather than the regular February board meeting.
“As we’ve seen already today, this is taking up an extensive amount of time,” Orson said. “There’s a lot of questions. I expect when we go into this even more deeply that we may have more questions.”
According to an email from the district, there has been no decision on whether to hold a separate meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Master Plan. Residents can view the entire plan and provide feedback at the school district’s website.