Two Sandy Springs residents, including City Councilmember Jody Reichel, have launched a group to study the feasibility of an independent Sandy Springs school system, citing the desire for greater local control.
The study would explore whether Sandy Springs’ taxes would generate sufficient funding to operate the 11 public schools within the city’s borders, which are currently operated by the Fulton County School District. Regardless of the results, creating a new district would require a state constitutional amendment.
“It’s just an investigation right now,” Reichel said in an interview.
Group members include Reichel, who says she is working on the effort as an independent citizen, and Cheryl Barlow. Both were founding members of the group that advocated for a new North Springs Charter High School. The Fulton County School District ultimately recommended a new school in a victory for the group, which was called Citizens for a New North Springs.
The idea to create an independent school system was spawned out of CFANNS and its efforts, Barlow said.
The new group, for now at least, is operating under the name “Citizens for Local Area School Systems,” or CLASS.
Barlow and Reichel said in an interview that they are aiming to raise $25,000 for the initial economic feasibility study. They have raised $7,000 so far through private fundraising. The study would be conducted by a Georgia Tech economics professor who has done similar studies for other cities and has agreed to conduct one for Sandy Springs, Reichel said.
If enough money is raised, it could be completed sometime this fall, an information sheet created by CLASS said. The results would then by presented to the mayor and Sandy Springs City Council, Reichel said.
In a written statement through a spokesperson, Mayor Rusty Paul did not take a position on the idea and said it is the residents’ First Amendment right to advocate for the school system.
“While a member of our city council is a part of that group, she is acting in her capacity as a citizen,” Paul said. “The city government has not adopted a policy supporting or opposing this initiative nor is there a plan to so.”
Barlow and Reichel argue the benefits of an independent school system would include lower taxes, more customized and tailored education, more accountability for officials and increased salaries for teachers. School taxes would stay in Sandy Springs instead of being distributed district-wide, and it’s possible a city district could operate the schools for less than the county district, they said.
“Many of the reasons are the same reasons we became a city,” Reichel said.
The information sheet said “understanding the feasibility of a local school system is the logical next step” after creating the city, which was incorporated in 2005.
Even if the study indicates an independent school system is possible, an amendment to the Georgia Constitution would have to pass. The constitution currently prevents the state from creating more districts.
The state school Superintendent Richard Woods said after a discussion at a Sept. 14 Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber event that he would not oppose legislation that would increase amount of districts. He said he supports having more control at the local level.
Previous efforts by state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) to pass legislation that would allow cities to create their own school districts have stalled.
Reichel said they have been in touch with other cities who have previously advocated for their own school system, but are not officially coordinating efforts at this point.
“We have spoken to a lot of people,” she said.
For more information on the group, click here.
Update: This article was updated with comment from Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.
Correction: The state Constitution prevents the state from creating more school districts, but there is not a numerical limit.