DeKalb BOE rejects Druid Hills High proposal in favor of district-wide repairsDruid Hills High School students and parents hold signs outside of the Robert R. Freeman Administrative Center in Stone Mountain during the DeKalb County Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, April 18, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.
By Sara Amis, contributor
Atlanta, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Education voted at their regular meeting on April 18 to approve a substitution to replace a resolution to modernize Druid Hills High School.
Instead, the school board voted to make repairs needed throughout the district. But the substitute motion approved by the school board leaves many questions, including what’s to become of the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan and the timeline and funding for making those repairs.
Board member Anna Hill proposed an amendment to have the district address priority 1, 2, and 3 repairs throughout the district, including those at Druid Hills High School.
During discussion, Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris pointed out that this change would account for a significant portion of the budget and would de-prioritize other projects the board had previously requested, including early learning centers.
“I wish that we had time to unpack that proposal and understand where the funding is coming from,” said Watson-Harris.
Board member Allyson Gevertz suggested deferring the motion to a planned meeting April 26, which was rejected.
Board members on both sides expressed concern with equity; Board Chair Vickie Turner and Board member Anna Hill spoke of serious needs for repair in schools across the district, while Board member Marshall Orson questioned why the board rejected only one project out of all of those recommended as priorities in the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan. In addition, Orson stated that the repair list in question would not address some major safety issues at the school.
The condition of Druid Hills High School became a matter of public discussion after the school was removed from a list of proposed projects at the school board’s February meeting. Druid Hills, along with Cross Keys High School, was recommended for renovation and modernization in the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan, which was prepared in consultation with architecture firm Perkins & Will.
Modernization projects are eligible for reimbursement under the Georgia Board of Education’s Capital Outlay program, but the state must receive a statement of intent for each project in the same year that work is begun. The deadline for that notification is in June each year. Druid Hills was the only school removed from the list.
After Druid Hills was removed from the reimbursement list, parent groups questioned why Druid Hills was singled out. DHHS students released a video documenting conditions in the school that included sewage bubbling up in an outdoor dining area, crumbling walls, possible mold, and electrical safety hazards. In response, the Georgia Department of Education is sending a team to the high school, as first reported by Decaturish.com.
Teachers, parents, and students from Druid Hills High School offered comments, stating that the school needs immediate and sustained attention. Deborah Jones, President of Organization of DeKalb Educators, said that she was glad to see DHHS students make a video to call attention to conditions at their school, but said that given the safety problems at many schools, she doubted it would be the last.
“The condition of our facilities are top of mind for all of us,” said Superintendent Watson-Harris, emphasizing in her remarks to the board that the physical condition of the learning environment affects students and teachers. She also stated that her administration was finding ways to pay for immediate necessary repairs to the Druid Hills HS building.
Watson-Harris added that following the CMP allowed the district to choose priorities and avoid making arbitrary decisions.
Hill stated that priority one “mission critical” repairs for all schools across the district would cost $36 million, while total repairs for all schools would cost over $500 million. She stated that she did not believe that the district could afford to build new schools, make necessary repairs, and also modernize schools, and that repairs — including to DHHS — should take priority.
Board member Marshall Orson said that the board was being inconsistent, in that other projects recommended in the CMP including modernization of Cross Keys have already been approved. He also said that the problems with DHHS go beyond simple repairs. Orson said that the sewage system at DHHS has terracotta pipes and was originally designed for one building and is now supporting six, and that some safety concerns can’t be addressed with simple repairs but require redesign.
Board member Gevertz suggested that the widespread concern about the condition of other schools in the district as well as Druid Hills should be a springboard to raise the necessary funds to address all the district’s needs with a general obligation bond. Orson said that he feels that the district could easily support debt to pay for a bond.
The motion passed five to two, with Gevertz and Orson voting no.
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