DeKalb County school officials plan to put together by December a final list of the projects to be financed through special education sales taxes approved in an overwhelming majority by voters in the May 24 special election.
Schools Superintendent Stephen Green said the district would meet with parents and community members in December to hammer out specific projects to be paid for with the $500 million to be raised by extending the penny cent E-SPLOST for five years.
More than 70 percent of the voters approved the E-SPLOST in the May 24 election. Green said that was the highest margin of victory recorded in DeKalb for the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax, which was imposed in the 1990s and has been renewed five times.
Some north DeKalb lawmakers, including Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) and DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester of Dunwoody, have criticized the 2016 E-SPLOST effort because school officials had not developed a specific project list before the vote. Green said he and the school board are on firm legal footing and are not worried about a legal challenge.
“There were assumptions that we were required to have a project list and that is something DeKalb did in the past. But there are some advantages to not having that level of specificity,” Green said at a May 25 press conference at Cross Keys High School to celebrate the E-SPLOST approval.
Because the board approved the E-SPLOST referendum in March and the vote was held in May, there was little time to come up with a good project list that included community contributions, Green said.
“We would have shortchanged the authentic engagement we need to have with our community,” he said. “Now we have from May to December to allow for in-depth time” to make plans and define that list.
“This [vote] is a turn of the corner for DeKalb. This is a vote of confidence,” Green said. “This is not a blank check. This will be a collaborative commitment to do it right and thorough.”
Green said $230 million of the $500 million would go toward alleviating the severe overcrowding in DeKalb County schools, most notably in the Cross Keys district. Money from this E-SPLOST will begin flowing into schools July 1, 2017.
“We are at the epicenter of overcrowding in DeKalb County,” Green said while standing between two of the more than 20 trailers parked outside Cross Keys High School where overflow students attend classes. Hundreds of students stood around him and members of the DeKalb Board of Education during the May 25 press conference.
“We are going to move forward to aggressively address the needs of our schools,” he said. “This [vote] begins the journey.”
A new Cross Keys high school will “very much be in consideration,” Green said. Construction of two elementary schools are already in the works with one to be built on the former Skyland Park property in Brookhaven. Green said the district recognizes the need also for new middle schools and high schools.
The new E-SPLOST is expected to produce $230 million for new facilities and additions; $100 million for facility condition improvements, such as new air-conditioning systems; $65 million for technology improvements; and $15 million for safety and security improvements, the district has said.
Green promised the school district would be transparent and forthright with how it is spending tax dollars.
“The stage is set for a true [community] engagement process,” he said.