By Matt Huey – What I know about DeKalb Schools and our Board of Education stem from my involvement in Briar Vista Elementary, the school that will touch every student and tax payer who live along LaVista, Houston Mill, Mason Mill roads and much of Briarcliff Road. Since 2009 I have fought budget changes that threatened the school’s Montessori teaching program, ultimately losing the fight this school year. I spent 2 years as Parent Teacher Organization’s president advocating for better education for the children at our school. Along the way I met many good people in the DeKalb School System and many that I wouldn’t offer a ride if they were standing in the pouring rain. What I learned about county educational politics can be summed up in 3 points:
- The DeKalb school system is more about money and property values than education.
- Your school either has influence or it does not.
- Your school is either on the inside or the outside of the DCSS and the DeKalb Board Of Education.
DeKalb schools have been so poorly run, so mismanaged that last week the state board recommended that every board member not serving their first term be removed citing a sustained “culture of poor governance”. This culture stems from misappropriation of tax funds, nepotism, favoritism, cronyism and politicking of an institution that has one function…providing a quality education for our children. While I cannot cite many of the past indiscretions I can raise awareness of one in the works: The planned replacement of Fernbank Elementary School.
Along with Avondale, Briar Vista, Laurel Ridge and McLendon Elementary schools, Fernbank is in the Druid Hills High School “cluster”. These elementary schools feel Druid Hills Middle which feeds Druid Hills High. Since the entire cluster feeds the same middle and high school only elementary school districts exist within the cluster. The entire county school system is composed of such clusters.
Currently the populations of the elementary schools in our cluster are as follows:
- Avondale: Capacity 686 seats, enrolment 525, 77% utilization (159 open seats)
- Briar Vista: Capacity 542, enrolment 439, 81% utilization (103 open seats)
- Fernbank: Capacity 578, enrolment 675, 117% utilization (97 over capacity)
- Laurel Ridge: Capacity 443, enrolment 446, 101% utilization (3 over capacity)
- McLendon: Capacity 559, enrolment 490, 88% utilization (69 open seats)
We have a total of 331 open seats in our cluster, more than enough to accommodate all of our students now and in the future. When the 900 seat Fernbank is built another 322 seats will be added bring the total open seats to over 653, the equivalent of a new, empty school. To justify this new school the county plans to redistrict 65 students from Laurel Ridge and 17 students from Briar Vista. Below are the county’s own 2016-2017 utilization forecasts:
- Avondale: Capacity 686 seats, enrolment 527, 77% utilization (157 open seats)
- Briar Vista: Capacity 542, enrolment 423 , 78% utilization (119 open seats)
- Fernbank: Capacity 900, enrolment 758 , 84% % utilization (142 open seats)
- Laurel Ridge: Capacity 443, enrolment 343 , 77% utilization (100 open seats)
- McLendon: Capacity 559, enrolment 491, 88% utilization (68 open seats)
Don’t believe me? Check the below link from the DCSS website.
In short we are spending tens of millions of tax payer dollars on new school that will decrease average facility utilization from the current 93% to 80%, all to accommodate 97 students in a school cluster with over 300 open seats. Am I the only genius who sees the problem here? Wait…refer to the 3 points above. Who has influence? Who is on the inside? Who stands to gain financially?
Are there plans to close a school in the cluster to fill the new Fernbank? Not now and not likely. Fernbank’ s stellar test scores are, in large part, due to the near absence of students with the Limited English skills and economic disadvantages, the two demographics that most negatively impact test scores. If a neighboring school were to close it would take some serious gerrymandering (like the Cross Keys cluster) to keep these demographics intact. Consider that the 82 students targeted for redistricting from Laurel Ridge and Briar Vista are all from single family residences, least likely to contain these demographics.
Conversely, will the county redistrict Fernbank students to relieve overcrowding and balance the cluster? History has shown that they will be in for the fight of their life if they try.
So why is county spending a large portion of the 2.2 billion tax payer dollars on a new school where it is clearly not justified? Who has influence? Who is on the inside? Who stands to gain financially?
And at whose expense? Around 60% of your county property taxes go to schools and the entire county will pay for SLPOST IV, the 1 cent tax that will be in place for the next 4 years. How much of this money will be spent in your neighborhood? Helping educate your children? Helping your property values? For Briar Vista, our neighborhood school: no influence, no one on the inside, no one fighting for our interests.
If you are concerned you should be. Strike while the iron is hot!! Write Governor Deal (http://gov.georgia.gov/contact-governor-domestic-form), representative Scott Holcomb (firstname.lastname@example.org), interim school Superintendent Michael Thurmond (email@example.com),Marshal Orson, our new Board of Education representative (firstname.lastname@example.org) and voice your concerns. Tell them to not only remove the board, but to begin repairing the damage they have done. Share this with anyone who will listen. Ask questions and carefully listen to the answers. There may still be time to do something that will benefit all our children, not just a chosen few.
Briar Vista Parent Teacher Organization
Editor’s Note: The above piece is the expressed opinion of the author and not policy of LLCC.