DeKalb Board of Education moves forward on some aspects of comprehensive master plan

DeKalb County School District Bus. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — A final update of the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan was presented at a special called meeting of the DeKalb Board of Education on February 25. The board considered a series of projects, resolutions, and changes aimed towards compliance with the plan.

As part of the CMP, the district plans to tear down or phase out Cary Reynolds Elementary School, Dresden ES, Idlewood ES, Jolly ES, Sequoyah Middle School, and Stoneview ES.  Except for Cary Reynolds, all the facilities will be rebuilt.

The district plans to modernize Cross Keys and possibly Druid Hills High Schools. “Modernization” is defined by the state as major renovation or rebuilding to make the school facility “as if new.” Reimbursement for such projects is available from the Georgia Department of Education’s Capital Outlay program.

Director of Operations Richard Boyd requested a resolution from the board to declare the intention to carry out these projects, which can be filed with the state Department of Education for requesting reimbursement.

“This is just a declaration of intent, to let the state know that we plan to do this some time over the next five years,” said Director of Planning and E-SPLOST Programming Hans Williams.

The Druid Hills project met some resistance from the board, specifically the $60 million price tag for modernization opposed to a previous facility condition repair assessment of $6.4 million.

“I want this Comprehensive Master Plan to happen. I want us to be very deliberate about it,” said board member Anna Hill. Both she and Vice Chair Diijon DaCosta questioned the process of declaring a resolution separate from approval of the CMP and specific projects. “I understand that it’s non-binding, but I don’t want to be told later that I voted for it,” said Hill.

DaCosta objected to the Druid Hills High School project being prioritized over early learning centers.

Board member Marshall Orson stated that Druid Hills High School is in a state of deterioration that requires action.

“The notion that we would further defer repairs on what is now a 95-year-old building in its main part…I’m just astounded,” said Orson. He pointed out that the $6.4 million figure was for repairs of the facility, while the $60 million was for a substantial renovation and possible rebuild.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris reiterated the district’s commitment to early learning centers, and reminded the board that the purpose was to make sure that the district was eligible for reimbursement. The state reimbursement program only applies to facilities for grades K-12, so early learning centers would not qualify for reimbursement.

In response to a question from Hill, Williams stated that the statement of intention had been due in July 2021 but could not be filed until the CMP was complete.  The district must file a statement of intent ahead of any application for reimbursement, and must apply for reimbursement in the same year that work is begun.

Hill said the district had enough time to clarify intentions about Druid Hills High School before the application window closes in June. DaCosta proposed an amendment to remove Druid Hills from the resolution, which passed.

The board approved the closeout of E-SPLOST II and III  including capital outlay reimbursements from the state, and the transfer of remaining projects to E-SPLOST V, in accordance with the CMP.

A motion to close out E-SPLOST IV and transfer those projects to E-SPLOST V met with resistance from some board members.

“I just want to note that there’s a Druid Hills project that hasn’t been completed, and it says that the project will be unnecessary when Druid Hills is renovated or modernized,” said board member Allyson Gevertz.

Hill said that there were other similar projects listed, in which funding was being shifted to E-SPLOST V under the assumption that the board would make decisions it had not yet made.

“I’m not saying I’m opposed, I just want to know what I am voting for,” added Hill.

Williams said that if the Board decided not to proceed with the projects that conform to the new CMP, the older versions of the projects could be added back in at a later date. In response to questions from Hill, Williams said that shifting the funding was necessary for proposed adjustments to E-SPLOST V, and also to correct some previously noted problems with financial reporting.

The motion to close out E-SPLOST IV failed. Proposed adjustments to E-SPLOST V dependent on funds being shifted from E-SPLOST IV were withdrawn.

Additionally, the board  approved the expansion of the grade configuration of Wadsworth Magnet School from grades four through six to grades four through eight for Fall 2022.

A request to relocate Cary Reynolds Elementary School to the former Nancy Creek facility for Fall 2022 was withdrawn until the March meeting of the board.  A public discussion of the proposed relocation is planned for March 9.

In other news, the board approved a one-year independent contractor agreement with Elaine Berry for $125,000, as part of the Finance department’s budget. Berry is an expert in fraud examination and database data extraction.

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