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Decatur School Board renames Renfroe Middle School to Beacon Hill Middle School

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Decatur School Board renames Renfroe Middle School to Beacon Hill Middle School

The Decatur School Board met on Tuesday, May 10, to discuss renaming Renfroe Middle School, approval of the FY23 budget and tentative approval of the millage rate. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur School Board, at its May 10 meeting, voted to rename Renfroe Middle School to Beacon Hill Middle School.

The name change will take effect on July 1.

The school board revised the district’s policy related to naming and renaming schools in October 2021. Under the policy, “school buildings where students attend will be given names of local communities, neighborhoods, streets and landmarks.”

The name recommended cannot be a duplicate, cause confusion, or otherwise conflict with the names of existing facilities within City Schools of Decatur.

The updated policy drove the process for renaming the middle school, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said.

Renfroe Middle Schoo is the only school affected by the new policy, as it’s the only school in the district named after a person.

“The policy change was not targeting any particular school,” board Chair Jana Johnson-Davis previously said. “Renfroe is our only school that is named after an individual instead of a local community, neighborhood, street, or landmark as stated in the new policy.”

The board invited the community to submit name suggestions in March, and the submission form closed on April 15. The suggestions were given to the System Charter Leadership Team, which recommended three names to the school board — Beacon Hill Middle School, Beacon Middle School and Trinity Middle School.

The school board members favored Beacon Hill Middle School to honor the history of the Beacon Hill community. While the middle school doesn’t sit in Beacon Hill proper, there are no schools left in the community, Johnson-Davis said at the April 26 work session.

“All of those schools were closed, so it will be a way to honor that community and Beacon Hill was the name of that community,” she said. “I like the idea of preserving the history of that community through renaming Renfroe that.”

The Beacon Hill community was the area of Decatur where freed slaves began to settle. The square mile area was the site of a thriving African-American community of homes, businesses, churches and schools. In the early 20th century, the neighborhood became known as Beacon Hill.

The city of Decatur’s Beacon Municipal Center, at West Trinity Place and Electric Avenue, was the where Herring Street School, Beacon Elementary and Trinity High School once stood.

The school board wanted the name change to coincide with the end of the school year, so the district could process the name change and rebranding over the summer, Johnson-Davis previously said.

A petition has been circulating for months criticizing former superintendent Carl Renfroe’s record on desegregating the school district. Attempts by Decaturish to confirm the allegations listed in the petition have been unsuccessful.

In other business, the school board approved the FY23 budget. Fiscal year 2023 begins on July 1. The board also tentatively approved the millage rate, which was set at 21 mills. The rate will be approved in June, following two more public hearings.

“Although we are not increasing the millage rate, we do anticipate a minimum increase of 8% in the tax digest,” Chief Financial Officer Lonita Broome said. “The tax digest is the value of property within the City Schools of Decatur district. For example, an 8% increase in the tax digest means the value of a house has increased by 8% when compared to last year.”

While the millage remains unchanged from fiscal year 2022, homeowners can expect their taxes to increase if their property value increases. DeKalb County is the entity that assesses property value and sets the tax digest.

“An 8% tax digest growth on a house that was valued at $600,000 for the current fiscal year would mean the value of the house is now $648,000. The school district uses 50% of the value of the house as the assessed value,” Broome said. “Currently, for a house valuing $600,000 the annual property tax is $6,300 before any exemptions. If the tax digest grows by 8%, the value of the house increases by 8%. Since the millage rate is a percentage of the assessed value, the amount of taxes you pay increases as the value of your property increases.”

The FY23 budget reflects $3.8 million in operational budget cuts, which Broome and Fehrman presented at the March 8 school board meeting.

The school system’s budget breaks down into four categories — the school nutrition revenue budget, the special revenue budget, the capital projects budget and the general fund budget.

In previous years, the school nutrition program was supplemented by the general fund by about $900,000 a year. The school board increased meal prices by 50 cents to reduce the amount of money that comes out of the general fund. About $226,000 will go into the school nutrition fund.

CSD expects to receive about $40 million over five years from the education special purpose local option sales tax that was approved by voters in a referendum in November 2021. The district anticipates receiving about $8 million in the first year.

“The fiscal year 2023 capital budget includes software, textbooks, building improvements, including $1 million of the SPLOST fiscal year 23 budget being allocated to building a running track inside Legacy Park, pending the completion of a mutually agreed upon memorandum of understanding between the city of Decatur and the City Schools of Decatur,” Broome said.

The preliminary FY23 general fund budget anticipates receiving about $85.6 million in revenue and spending the same amount, reflecting a balanced budget. Some highlights of the general fund include:

– Adding three counselors

– A step increase for eligible employees

– A $2,000 increase to the teachers’ salary scale

– A 5.4% pay raise for school nutrition workers and bus drivers

– Increasing the equity budget

– A 5% reduction in all operational budgets

– Increasing administrative support at the lower elementary schools

CSD will also increase tuition for the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center by 5%.

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