By Jason Massad
Hundreds of people from across the DeKalb County school district were asked a simple question at a recent meeting at Chamblee Charter High School: What did they think about the overall educational experience offered by the district?
Around forty-five percent voted it was “fair.”
The meeting, held Nov. 9, was the first in a series of public meetings across DeKalb County intended to gauge public sentiment on the county’s schools.
A lot is at stake. The idea is to measure the public’s pulse on the county’s educational system before administrators redraw attendance lines, shutter schools and consolidate operations in the state’s third-largest school district.
How much will the public comments ultimately matter? Many hoped for the best.
“I want them to consider the community’s involvement in this when they redraw the lines,” said Shari Bayer, a Dunwoody parent.
DeKalb school officials want to restructure a system that allows certain schools and learning centers to be chronically overcrowded, while leaving more than 10,000 seats unfilled across the district. District executives have hired a consultant to embark on a series of public meetings, while administrators, educators and parents tour facilities to help decide how to make the district more efficient.
The goal is for the DeKalb County Board of Education to ratify a sweeping restructuring plan by February.
That timeline has raised some eyebrows.
“I think it will be very challenging for them to get this in by February in a well-thought-out way,” Bayer said.
The DeKalb system is steeped in scandal. There are allegations of top district executives funneling building contracts to insiders, administrators selling their textbooks to schools and school board members profiting from business relationships within the school system.
Beyond allegations of corruption, some parents in the district say they have witnessed baffling management decisions.
Fred Tuck, a parent of a Chamblee High School student, said that, for example, Vanderlyn Elementary School in Dunwoody has been over capacity while the nearby Kingsley Elementary School is under capacity.
Enrollment figures play a part in how much funding is allocated to a given school.
“They don’t seem to have much a view of what’s going on,” Tuck said. “These things are ridiculous.”
Jim Redovian, a board member representing District 1, said that he sees a need for the district to scale down the number of facilities it operates.
“The system needs to be smaller,” he said. “We have 144 buildings. You can’t run a system like that. We need to be looking for ways to make our system smaller.”
At the meeting at Chamblee Charter High School, William Carnes, part of the district’s consulting team, asked a series of questions in a focus groups, Reactions were mixed.
Some complained of living in areas that had borne the brunt of previous redistricting efforts. One neighborhood, for instance, was split along a power-line easement.
The line separated children who would otherwise mix in the same schools.
Other parents expressed concern about the way the district has evolved. DeKalb built schools as the population gradually grew, creating a lot of neighborhopod-type schools.
As a result, many of the schools in the district, like Chamblee High School, have a need to expand, but don’t have the real estate to do so. Meanwhile, the scandal in the district isn’t close to being forgotten.
“It’s hard to gain trust back when you lose it,” one woman said.