The Dunwoody Homeowners Association has come out publicly against a general obligation bond of up to $265 million being floated by DeKalb County Schools administrators to pay for facilities maintenance and capital projects.
In an open letter sent to members of the DeKalb Board of Education, the DHA says the “lack of leadership” at DeKalb Schools, a history of alleged financial mismanagement and widespread confusion over the GO bond process prompted the board to take the stance.
“Through the GO bond you have proposed, you plan to increase property taxes for homeowners over the next 15 years,” the letter says. “While we are quite concerned about the state of the facilities in our schools, we are skeptical of the GO bond as a vehicle to successfully address these deferred maintenance problems.”
The school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DeKalb voters overwhelmingly approved E-SPLOST V, a 1% sales tax increase in 2016, to raise more than $500 million to be spent on school capital projects, such as new construction or expansions. The current E-SPLOST projects are estimated to cost more than $95 million more than originally budgeted due in large part to increasing construction costs, according to school officials.
School administrators have been holding public meetings to discuss funding options, including cutting projects to meet the budget. They are also suggesting a GO bond between $222 million and $265 million to be put on the ballot in March. The DeKalb Board of Education is expected to vote in November on whether the GO bond will be put on the ballot.
In Dunwoody, parents, activists and city officials have complained to DeKalb Schools for several years about its ongoing use of adding trailers to school campuses to try to alleviate overcrowding as well as what they say is poor financial management of an annual operating budget of more than $1 billion. The school district serves nearly 102,000 students, 140 schools and centers, and has 15,500 employees, including 6,600 teachers, according to its website.
Despina Lamas and Michelle Fincher, two of the mothers who started the Facebook page “Educate Dunwoody” due to frustration over trailers and overcrowding, asked the DHA to take a public stance against the GO bond.
At the DHA’s Sept. 8 meeting, Fincher said they are also reaching out to parents and school advocacy organizations in south DeKalb County as part of its coalition building. They say they are asking for better accountability from the school district on such issues as spending, making maintenance repairs at schools and finding other ways to address overcrowding besides adding more trailers.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Lamas said.
DHA President Adrienne Duncan said “reaching across the imaginary line” of north and south DeKalb County is crucial to creating wanted change in the school district.
“There has been an inherent mistrust across Memorial Drive,” Duncan said. “That needs to end today.”
DHA’s full letter:
Dear Members of the Board,
The Dunwoody Homeowners Association (DHA) strives to ensure a high standard and quality of life for the homeowners of Dunwoody. An essential component of a strong and vibrant community is quality public schools for every child. Unfortunately, the school facility crisis of DeKalb County Schools (DCSD) is putting the quality of life for all of Dunwoody at serious risk. School buildings are suffering from leaky roofs, mold, malfunctioning air conditioning, non-working bathrooms, unsanitary locker rooms, unsafe multipurpose fields, and catastrophic plumbing breaks. These poor conditions extend to numerous portable trailers which are arriving at an alarming pace with little plan for relief in the next few years. We ask DCSD to prioritize this facilities crisis and school overcrowding through strategic initiatives and alternative solutions, not simply adding more portable classrooms each year.
Through the GO Bond you have proposed, you plan to increase property taxes for homeowners over the next 15 years. While we are quite concerned about the state of the facilities in our schools, we are skeptical of the GO Bond as a vehicle to successfully address these deferred maintenance problems.
We do not support the GO Bond for the following reasons:
- Lack of leadership: Dr. Green is expected to leave by next summer. Many departments are being run by interim leaders who have limited vision and fail to provide a long-term plan for the school system. Strong leadership must be in place to oversee additional taxpayer funds prior to their collection.
- Lack of financial transparency: The 2017 financial audit contained material weaknesses that have yet to be solved. The Athletics department internal audit from October of 2017 found “gross non-compliance due to controls not being in place”. The 2018 procurement audit revealed a risk of liability exposure. We have not seen a 2018 audit even though we are in the 3rd quarter of 2019. A forensic audit, by an objective third-party firm, must be conducted of the athletics, food service, public safety, and procurement departments prior to any consideration of a bond.
- Lack of transparency on the GO Bond process: According to attendees from our community, including elected officials, GO Bond meetings were very confusing and provided no opportunity to answer the public’s questions. DCSD must develop greater trust with the community during the bond approval process.
- Lack of professional acumen in GO Bond construction estimates: Internal DCSD staff compiled the construction estimates, rather than using professional estimators. A construction management firm needs to be hired to manage the entire scope of the Go Bond work.
The DHA has been a long-time supporter of DeKalb County Schools throughout the Dunwoody area and desires to continue this successful partnership. The DHA is proud to be a consistent contributor to all seven public schools and our support goes beyond just financial donations. DHA members are also DCSD parents who support hands-on initiatives like campus clean up days and other service projects to keep our schools strong.
Our primary goal is to promote the recreation, health, safety, welfare, benefit and enjoyment of the homeowners within the community. We know this goal cannot be obtained without focusing on maintaining high quality schools. We implore you to be more purposeful with the funds you currently have and pause the Go Bond process until you have addressed our concerns above. We are confident that taxpayer funds will be better spent when a stronger financial and strategic foundation is in place.
The Board of Directors
Dunwoody Homeowners Association