The DeKalb County School District is considering asking voters to approve a general obligation bond referendum next year that could pay for a new elementary school in Dunwoody, among other facilities.
Overcrowding has been an ongoing issue at all six of Dunwoody’s elementary schools and students continue to be taught in trailers that are parked outside the main school buildings. Dunwoody parents and residents have been locked in a continuing battle with DeKalb Schools officials over school conditions, especially criticizing the use of trailers as the temporary solution for schools being over capacity.
A new 900-seat Austin Elementary School is opening next year, but the city’s elementary schools will still be overcrowded.
DeKalb Schools has not announced the amount of money the bond issuance might raise, but Board of Education member Stan Jester said at the May 5 Dunwoody Homeowners Association meeting the bond would be $250 million. School overcrowding was a topic discussed at the meeting.
“Right now, the school district is in a serious bind with money,” said Jester, who is a Dunwoody resident. “We have twice as much money as we’ve ever had and the same amount of students, but we are in the hole.”
The idea of a bond referendum was suggested at a March 14 community meeting at Dunwoody High School with DeKalb Schools Superintendent Stephen Green. At that meeting, many Dunwoody parents railed against DeKalb Schools for not finding a permanent solution to the overcrowding. Green said at the time there is a lack of money for capital projects and facilities repairs and maintenance. A general obligation bond, he said, could close the funding gap needed to solve the overcrowding issue.
That idea is now officially moving forward with a proposal on a general obligation bond expected to be made to the Board of Education in June, according to a DeKalb Schools spokesperson. The presentation would include how the general obligation bond would supplement the ESPLOST V program that voters approved in 2016 and for other facility needs.
The June presentation would also include a public input process to gauge support for a bond referendum. If the school board decides to move forward with the proposal, the board would take an official vote to approve the referendum in November so it could be put on a March 2020 ballot, according to DeKalb Schools.
The potential bond referendum would fund building new schools, including the possibility of a new elementary school in the Dunwoody and Chamblee clusters.
The money would be used to build a new elementary school in Dunwoody for $30 million and expand the current struggling schools, as well as sustain the school district, Jester said at the DHA meeting. He said the school board sees the overcrowding problem as an emergency, and they want to get it fixed as quickly as possible, and for as little money as possible.
Jester also said DeKalb Schools is not interesting in working with Dunwoody on other options to alleviate overcrowding.
“The school system has no desire whatsoever to work with the city of Dunwoody,” Jester said. “They have no reason to.”
The school district and the city of Dunwoody are in talks about potentially keeping open the old Austin Elementary School after the new 900-seat Austin Elementary School opens next year. Doing so would alleviate the overcrowding at the city’s existing elementary schools, according to DeKalb Schools officials.
After the new AES opens, the six elementary schools in the Dunwoody cluster combined will be more than 500 seats collectively over capacity, according to DeKalb Schools.
The city currently owns the old Austin Elementary School after a land swap deal was made in 2016 and leases the property to DeKalb Schools. The school is slated to close after the new school opens.
–Dyana Bagby and Katia Martinez