State Rep. Tom Taylor painted the Dunwoody City Council a dim picture of the chance the Legislature this year will pass his bill to amend the state Constitution to allow for independent school districts. He said DeKalb school officials plan to fight the proposal every step of the way.

Taylor warned the council at its Dec. 12 meeting that the DeKalb County School District has hired former state lawmaker Edward Lindsey and the powerful Dentons law firm to fight his bill, known as HR 4. The proposal has languished in committee for three years.

State Rep. Tom Taylor.

“[Lindsey] moved from his firm to Dentons to work on this. He’s very good at what he does … and he’s being paid big money out of our tax dollars to do this,” Taylor said.

“It’s all about turf. School systems are the largest employers,” Taylor said to the council. “I will keep fighting the fight. But I don’t want to raise any expectations that this will happen the first week.”

School officials, however, deny that Lindsey or Dentons has been hired, at least so far this year, to fight against Taylor’s bill or any other bill.

“The DeKalb County School District has not hired or signed a contract with anyone, any business, or any organization to influence, advocate or oppose existing or proposed legislation in the Georgia General Assembly for the upcoming session. Neither have we paid nor are we paying anyone for such services,” said DeKalb schools spokesperson Quinn Hudson.

The school district did hire Dentons in January and that contract expired in June, Hudson said. According to Dentons website, Lindsey came on board with the firm in July. The January 15 through June 15 contract was for $99,900, according to a memo from Dentons to Supt. Stephen Green.

School Boardmember Stan Jester, who lives in Dunwoody, said the district has hired Dentons to do legislative lobbying in the past, but no contract to hire Dentons to do any lobbying during the upcoming session has so far come before the board or been discussed. The school board and administration did hold a recent legislative lunch with legislators and discussed their legislative agenda.

Specific items the school district is opposing:

1. Legislation leading to the erosion of the local tax base and any attempts to usurp the authority of local boards to determine how local funds are used.

2. Any expansion of the programs that directly or indirectly use public funds to pay private school tuition.

3. The erosion of state revenue base through exemptions from sales and use taxes, income taxes and other taxes.
Jester, who opposes the school district’s legislative agenda, said DeKalb school officials will fight any bill they see as taking revenue from the district. That would include a bill such as Taylor’s independent school districts bill, he said, but to date school officials don’t see HR 4 as a serious threat.

“DeKalb schools is not publicly taking a stance on this bill,” Jester said.

Taylor told the council he will continue to fight for the bill because his constituents want the city to have their own city school system. But with a whole slate of new legislators and co-sponsors of his bill in the past no longer serving in the General Assembly, he said, it will be difficult to find support.

The proposed bill would amend the Georgia Constitution to allow the creation of new school districts in cities started since 2005 and cities adjacent to them. The bill would affect 16 cities, including Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Taylor has said.
Much of this year will be educating legislators about the bill with the help of Georgians for Local Area Systems, or GLASS, Taylor said. Taylor needs 120 votes in the House, or a 2/3 majority, necessary to pass a constitutional amendment.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.