More trailers are likely to be added to Dunwoody High School next year to handle the ongoing overcrowding, according to a DeKalb County Schools official.
Dan Drake, interim chief operations officer for the DeKalb County School District, told the Dunwoody City Council July 22 that he expects more trailers will be added to the high school next year. He said he did not know how many new trailers would be added.
The news comes after DeKalb Schools added two new portable quads, totaling eight classrooms, to DHS earlier this month. The City Council also learned construction of the DHS quads won’t be finished until Aug. 19, two weeks after school begins on Aug. 5.
Drake and Richard Boyd, director of design and construction at DeKalb Schools, attended the City Council meeting to give an update on school construction projects, including the new Austin Elementary School which is 80 percent completed and within its nearly $23 million budget, they said. The school is expected to open in January.
The council requested Drake and Boyd’s appearance following community uproar against the addition of the portable quads at the high school over the Fourth of July holiday week that city officials said they were unaware was going to happen. A stop-work order was issued by the city because DeKalb Schools was building the trailers without the proper permit; construction started back up a day later after the proper permit was obtained.
Six single-wide trailers and one restroom trailer are also being added to Dunwoody Elementary School and are expected to be finished by Aug. 2, days before school starts.
Overcrowding has been an ongoing issue at all of Dunwoody’s 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 years-long battle with DeKalb Schools officials over school conditions, especially criticizing the use of trailers as the solution for schools being over capacity.
North DeKalb schools in particular are overcrowded, Drake said, while other areas of the county have the opposite problem.
“I implore you to come up with out-of-the box solutions,” Councilmember Lynn Deutsch told Drake and Boyd. “Trailers are the last resort, not the first resort … this time next year we can’t be having this same discussion.”
DeKalb Schools Board of Education member Stan Jester, a Dunwoody resident attending the council meeting, was asked by Deutsch if the board could discuss other ways to address overcrowding in north DeKalb other than the adding trailers.
Jester said the majority of the board is “looking for equity” and opposes finding different solutions for various parts of the county. He added that he does not see any answer to overcrowding at Dunwoody schools other than redistricting.
Drake explained that the district is facing construction costs exceeding the approximate $561 million in ESPLOST funding approved by voters in 2016 due to significant increases in construction costs.
DHS currently has a $27.2 million budget from ESPLOST to cover costs for a 41-classroom addition, expanding core spaces such as the cafeteria and for more parking.
The DHS additions are currently in the design phase and tentatively expected to be completed in November 2022.
At Peachtree Charter Middle School, an 18-classroom addition is planned with a proposed $11.9 million budget and currently is expected to be finished in 2023.
Plans are to gain public input in August and September on what projects may have to be cut or delayed due to the financial constraints. For example, turf fields at DHS and all DeKalb high schools would likely be cut from current plans due to lack of ESPLOST funds, Drake explained.
An option the DeKalb Board of Education is considering is asking voters to approve a referendum next year to issue up to $250 million in general obligation bonds that could cover the gap between the construction costs and available ESPLOST funding, Drake said.
If a GO bond is approved, that new revenue could be used to pay for the turf field at the DHS, Drake said.
GO bond money could also pay to build a $34 million, 900-seat elementary school at a site to be determined, but school officials have said the school would be built in the Dunwoody/Chamblee cluster.
Mayor Denis Shortal said that school tax revenue from Dunwoody is double that of anywhere else in the county based on population.
“That’s OK with me. We’ll pay our share, more than our share … but we’d really like to have a few things in return,” he said.
Councilmember Terry Nall asked about student safety and was assured by Drake that students and staff are safe in the school district’s facilities and that safety is the top priority for the school administration.
“If you haven’t picked up anything else tonight, you’re in Dunwoody and here we believe the overcrowding and quality of facilities is a top priority for our community,” Nall said.
The Power Point presentation provided to the Dunwoody City Council:
This story has been updated with the DeKalb Schools presentation.