City Council plans to ask the state Legislature for a constitutional amendment that would allow the creation of a municipal school system in Dunwoody.
During a discussion of the city’s 2013 legislative priorities Nov. 12, Councilman Terry Nall suggested asking city lobbyists to investigate the possibility of creating an amendment that would allow Dunwoody to have its own school system. Currently, Dunwoody is part of the DeKalb County school system.
Other council members acknowledged that it would be a challenge, but supported the idea.
“Nothing would increase property values more than to have a Dunwoody school system,” Councilman Doug Thompson said.
Councilman John Heneghan said a constitutional amendment would make municipal school systems an option statewide.
“It’s about local control,” he said.
By adding the constitutional amendment to its list of legislative priorities, the council recognized something that is frequently discussed in wishful terms in the Dunwoody community.
When asked if her constituents ever talk to her about the possibility of forming a smaller school district, DeKalb County Board of Education member Nancy Jester said without hesitation: “Every day.”
“People lament, the prohibition, if you will, on being able to form independent school districts in the state,” Jester said. “And it’s not just Dunwoody.”
Jester, who represents Dunwoody on the DeKalb school board, said many parents feel that the DeKalb County school district is too large and inefficient.
“I believe the schools are owned by the communities. We’re shareholders in this. But I don’t think we’re always treated like shareholders,” Jester said. “You can have more say in your school district if it’s smaller.”
Jester said she would be in favor of a constitutional amendment that would make way for smaller school systems.
“And not just for Dunwoody,” Jester said. “This is a philosophical stance I have. Just like I supported the Charter School Amendment. I support a dispersion of power rather than a concentration of power.”
Jester said if a Dunwoody school system were to be created, DeKalb County’s school system would need to restructure its service delivery and shrink its budget.
“DeKalb County already has a lot of waste and inefficiency and overstaffing in a lot of areas, and that would exacerbate that for the DeKalb County school district,” Jester said. “If I’m a citizen that remains in DeKalb, it forces them to focus on the product they’re providing me. If they properly realign their service structure, it could mean a better focus and concentration on communities that remain within it. I look at it positively.”
Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said while he would support a Dunwoody school system, he doesn’t see it happening any time soon.
Creating a new school system would take an amendment to the state Constitution, which is no easy feat. Two-thirds of legislators would need to approve an amendment before it could be put onto a ballot for voters to decide, Millar said.
“I can’t envision us at this present time getting enough support to do that to put it on the ballot,” Millar said. “Basically what you’re talking about is Republicans throughout the state voting to do that …I don’t see that happening.”
Millar said he thinks the measure would really only appeal to voters in large urban counties, like Fulton and DeKalb.
“I just don’t think there’s the appetite to do that,” Millar said.
He sees charter school systems as a more likely option to provide communities with more control of their schools.
“With the charter systems like Fulton County has, the next step is charter clusters where you have more and more freedoms in the local system to have more say in how their schools are run,” Millar said. “That would be more likely to happen.”