The Georgia Department of Education is the only government entity with authority over the DeKalb County School District when it comes to school construction and maintenance, including adding trailers to alleviate overcrowding, according to a legal opinion from an attorney hired by the city of Dunwoody.
The new legal opinion backs up the city’s claims that it cannot force the school district to stop adding trailers to overcrowded schools as part of a years-long war. Frustrated residents have demanded the city stop the school district from adding more trailers by enforcing local building codes, but officials say they are handcuffed by state law from doing anything.
“The Georgia Constitution does not give municipalities the power to affect local school districts, nor has the General Assembly delegated any of its power to the city,” wrote William A. White, a partner with Smith Welch Webb and White Attorneys at Law, in the Sept. 6 report to Assistant City Attorney Bill Riley.
“It is my opinion that the city does not have the authority to directly compel a local school system to comply with its local ordinances,” he said. “This is the case even in the realm of the construction, maintenance and report of school facilities.”
Requests for comment from DeKalb Schools and the state Department of Education on the legal opinion were not immediately answered. School officials have said adding trailers is currently the most cost-effective and efficient way to alleviate severe overcrowding at Dunwoody and many other north DeKalb schools.
The City Council requested the legal opinion in August. The unanimous vote to do so followed community backlash after the school district added more trailers to DHS over the Independence Day holiday week.
The council in August also revoked a memorandum of understanding with DeKalb Schools that requested the district obtain a city permit before adding trailers to schools. The school district did not get a permit to add the DHS trailers in July.
White sent the report to Riley Sept. 6, but the city waited until Oct. 28 to release it to give the council and staff time to digest the information, according to spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher.
White and his law firm were chosen based on their experience representing cities and boards of education in Georgia, according to the city.
To read the full report, click here.
This story has been updated to correct that the report to the city was dated Sept. 6, not Sept. 26.