Decatur Superintendent begins making the case for borrowing millions to pay for school construction
Decatur’s elementary schools are brimming with students.
City Schools of Decatur is asking for a general obligation bond, perhaps as much as $82 million, to pay for new school construction. Doing that would mean increasing taxes by up to 3.46 mills, depending on the length of time required to pay back the money.
City Commissioners would have to approve a bond referendum, something they’ve been reluctant to do before. It’s crunch time now. Each K-3 school has exceeded the capacity established by the Georgia Department of Education. Superintendent Phyllis Edwards told City Commissioners Monday that another 400 students will enroll next year. More than 4,300 students are enrolled in City Schools of Decatur, the most since 1969.
“Everyone holds their breath and says when is this going to stop,” she said. “If a site has no more room once we enroll as many children as we can enroll, we already know we’re going to be adding portables for this upcoming school year.”
She said using low growth projections, the school system will see well above 6,000 students by 2020.
Options for expanding the schools within the city limits are limited. In the short term, residents will see more portable classrooms, possibly as many as 30 across CSD’s schools. Jeff Prine, president of CSD consultant ASCENSION Program Management, said the ideal solution would be another elementary school, but there’s no space identified.
The city recently asked the state legislative delegation to introduce a bill that would allow for a vote to expand the city’s current boundaries via annexation. That could provide additional sites for a new school. No bill has been introduced.
“Remember this is without annexation,” Edwards said. “It’s a whole other picture if annexation goes through.”
There isn’t much room for schools to add additional room on their current sites, unless parents don’t mind their kids going to a school where there’s no grass or trees on campus.
Prine said designs for current expansion of the high school take greenspace into account.
“In all cases we’ve tried to maximize the compactness of the site but we also have to keep day lighting coming into the building,” he said. “And we’ve tried to make sure we have an environment kids feel comfortable with.”
Will commissioners feel comfortable with increasing the millage rate? CSD is considering three bond options: $60 million, $75 million and $82 million. School Board members initially wanted to move ahead with requesting $82 million but backtracked a bit to reconsider.
“The amount needed for the GO bond is something that we are still discussing,” Edwards said.
There wasn’t a chance to get into that at Monday’s meeting. Edwards and CSD consultants got about 45 minutes during a work session to unleash a fire hose of information about enrollment, taxes and city debt. There was no time for a back and forth at the end of the presentation. There will soon be a joint meeting between the City Commission and School
“We look forward to a joint session where we can hash this out,” Mayor Jim Baskett said.
Read more: Here is the presentation from Monday’s meeting.
Editor’s note: Decaturish was unable to attend last night’s meeting, but watched a portion of it via the live video stream on the city’s website.