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DeKalb School Board approves list of sales-tax-funded projects, including Druid Hills High renovation

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DeKalb School Board approves list of sales-tax-funded projects, including Druid Hills High renovation

Druid Hills High School. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School Board approved a list of sales-tax-funded projects during a meeting on Feb. 1.

The school board approved the list in a unanimous vote, followed by applause. Following the vote, Dr. Vasanne Tinsley said she was “excited” by the board’s decision.

“Our sleeves are rolled up. We’re ready to go,” Tinsley said.

The list, called the “E-SPLOST VI scope of projects” on the school board agenda, includes a renovation of Druid Hills High.

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.

Decaturish asked School Board Chair Diijon DaCosta about the reason for delay and what caused the board to act now. He sidestepped the question.

“As I mentioned in the board meeting, there are different components in different areas, and we allowed the superintendent to take control, and we’re here today with a unanimous decision, so I really want to thank everybody for working collectively together to get this passed,” he said.

He also thanked DeKalb County residents for “voting yes to this magnificent ESPLOST.”

The projects approved by the board include:

— New Sequoyah Middle School and High School Construction — $170 million (estimated)

—  New Dresden Elementary School Construction — $42 million (estimated)

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

— Druid Hills High School modernization — $50 million (estimated)

To see the full list of approved projects, click here.

The work will take years to complete, district officials noted during the meeting.

“The bulldozers will not be at the school tomorrow,” Tinsley said. “But understand we have the marching orders to begin.”

The board’s unwillingness to move on the Druid Hills High project led to weeks of chaos in the school district, resulting in the ouster of former superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris.

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.

Tinsley said many of the problems depicted in the video have been addressed.

“I think parents should feel that we definitely have a laser focus on doing what we need to do on making sure that those types of situations to not occur again,” Tinsley said.

The plan the board approved on Wednesday will affect every school, Tinsley said.

“All schools will be touched in one way or the other,” she said.

Sara Amis contributed to this story. 

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