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DeKalb School Board will vote on sales tax-funded projects, including Druid Hills High renovation

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DeKalb School Board will vote on sales tax-funded projects, including Druid Hills High renovation

Charlie McAdoo, sophomore vice president of Druid Hills High School Student Government Association holds 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.

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County voters renewed a sales tax for school projects in 2021.

That renewal, known as Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) VI received 80% support from voters and is expected to produce $700 million in revenue over five years.

But for months, the school board delayed approving a plan for how to spend the money, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It appears the school board will finally act during a called meeting on Feb. 1, set for 10 a.m., which will begin with a closed-door executive session. The school board will meet at the Robert R. Freeman Administrative Complex, located at 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain, Ga. 30083.

The school board has two items on the agenda: approval of E-SPLOST VI scope of projects and approving whatever items are discussed in executive session.

The list of projects under consideration include a modernization of Druid Hills High that led to weeks of chaos in the school district, resulting in the ouster of former superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris.

“Approval of the scope of projects outlined in the attached document entitled ‘Capital Projects and Initial E-SPLOST VI Project List’ will allow Operations staff to begin work on the capital projects outlined in that presentation,” the agenda for the Feb. 1 meeting says.

The projects the school board is being asked to consider include:

— New Sequoyah Middle School and High School Construction — $170 million

—  New Dresden Elementary School Construction — $42 million

— New Cross Keys Middle School and land purchase — $90 million

— Druid Hills High School modernization — $50 million.

“The board’s approval of the scope of projects outlined in the ‘Capital Projects and Initial E-SPLOST VI Project List’ presentation will allow staff to begin to take necessary action to implement these projects, including beginning the procurement process necessary to hire qualified professional design firms and to initiate the formal design process for major construction projects,” the school board’s agenda says. “All project expenses and contracts will be approved by the board in accordance with board policy.”

To see the full list of projects under consideration, click here.

There will be no opportunity for public comment during the meeting.

The school board’s vote comes after Cognia, a nonprofit accreditation organization, released a report stating that the DeKalb County School Board is still a dysfunctional body pursuing individual interests instead of working for the district as a whole.

“Interviews with all seven board members indicate there is not a clear commitment to the vision and mission of the DeKalb County School District by all board members,” the Cognia report says. “School board members are responsible to all members in the organization, not just to those within their assigned regions. Every issue before the Board is a special issue, even when it is not particularly special to every individual board member. Board members are simply citizens until there is a quorum, and the meeting is called to order. During interviews with board members, frequent references were made to ‘my schools’ and ‘my constituents’ rather than to the system as a whole.”

The Druid Hills High controversy is an illustration of the school board’s dysfunction.

Druid Hills High School was removed from the district’s five-year facilities plan at the board’s regular meeting last February for reasons which remain unclear. Then-board chair Vickie Turner, Then-vice chair Diijon DaCosta, and board members Dr. Joyce Morley and Anna Hill voted to reject modernizing the school, a recommendation which was part of the district’s recently completed Comprehensive Master Plan.

That move provoked a public outcry. A video made by Druid Hills High students, documenting dilapidated and unsafe conditions at the school, went viral. The video showed electrical shock hazards, missing bathroom stall doors, and raw sewage bubbling up in an outdoor picnic area.

Druid Hills HS, built in 1927, is the district’s oldest facility still in use. The terracotta sewage system, designed to last 60 years, has never been replaced.

After the video was published, the board at its April 2022 meeting again rejected a resolution to modernize Druid Hills High. Instead, board member Anna Hill substituted a mandate to make repairs throughout the district drawn from a list of facility condition assessments that were part of the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan.  The list did not include any of the major repairs required at Druid Hills.

A facilities team from GA DOE later inspected Druid Hills HS, prompting a scathing letter from State Superintendent Richard Woods, which admonished the board to “empower” Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Watson-Harris to make necessary repairs. Instead, the board responded with a letter blaming Watson-Harris for conditions at the school and firing her on April 26.

At a special called meeting on May 31, 2022 the DeKalb Board of Education voted unanimously to restore Druid Hills High School to the district’s five-year facilities plan, just ahead of a June 1 deadline required by the Georgia Department of Education.

Failure to meet the deadline would have jeopardized funding from the state intended to partially reimburse the DeKalb County School District for the cost of replacing or modernizing the district’s crumbling facilities.

Sara Amis contributed to this story. 

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