The DeKalb Board of Education on Feb. 10 approved a controversial redistricting plan and funding cut for a new Cross Keys High School as expected, but also authorized moving hundreds of students between Brookhaven and Dunwoody schools.

Many Brookhaven and Dunwoody parents have been upset with the redistricting process all along, saying it will not alleviate overcrowding in the long term. A coalition of residents and parents in the Cross Keys cluster are also urging the district to address the overcrowding regardless.

Both votes passed 6-0 at a Feb. 10 meeting, with District 5 board member Vickie Turner absent, according to an email from Porter Novelli, a public relations firm hired by the district.

Ramona Tyson, the district’s interim superintendent, first recommended an “Interim Redistricting Plan” at a Jan. 13 meeting to prepare the way for a Comprehensive Master Plan, which will be completed in the 2020-2021 school year. The Master Plan process will include a permanent redistricting plan, but it is unclear when it will be put into effect or what the process will look like.

“You can’t properly plan for the future if you don’t have a plan for the future,” Tyson said in a press release. “The most important part of our recommendation is that we issue an RFP [request for proposals] to develop a comprehensive master plan so the future superintendents will have a roadmap to guide their decision-making.”

Dunwoody cluster change

DeKalb schools began the redistricting process in August 2019, and it has been viewed as controversial by parents in both the Dunwoody and Doraville United cluster. The controversy continues, with parents concerned about the lack of community input for the approved plan.

“What a disappointment that the ‘solution’ that was forced upon us did not follow any protocols that were established when the redistricting meetings began in September,” Megan Cann, chair of the Dunwoody Elementary School Parent Advisory Committee, said in an email. “This ‘temporary’ solution is our children’s permanent experience.”

“You are claiming to solve a problem by creating more problems than the county originally started with, and with little to no parent/community input,” another parent said in an email.

In January, the plan presented to the board recommended moving 102 students from Dunwoody Elementary to the new, 950-seat Austin Elementary School at 5321 Roberts Drive, to go into effect in July.

The plan presented at the Jan. 13 meeting also recommended consideration of a plan to use the building that currently houses the Kittredge Magnet School, an advanced learning elementary school serving grades 4 through 6 at 1663 East Nancy Creek Drive, as a “temporary annex relief option” for the cluster by moving Kittredge to a vacant school building at 2383 North Druid Hills Road.

Now, in addition to the 102 students from Dunwoody Elementary to Austin, the district will move 4th and 5th graders, a total of 330 students, from Dunwoody to Kittredge. Meanwhile, Kittredge students will move to the vacant North Druid Hills building most recently used as the temporary location of the John Lewis Elementary School during construction.

“This minimal redistricting recommendation is the phase 1 for redistricting to not impact the comprehensive redistricting recommendations that are expected from the CMP,” a district memo said.

“…[Y]ou are now ‘solving’ the Dunwoody [Elementary School] overcrowding problem by creating another overcrowding problem, as the current Kittredge building cannot hold the number of students you propose sending there,” one parent said in an email.

According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement website, the current attendance number for Kittredge is 479 students. The most recent attendance number recorded on GOSA’s website for the former John Lewis school was 384 students.

The Kittredge building swap was an idea Tyson floated during the redistricting process, but it was not among the final staff recommendation she presented to the board at a Jan. 13 meeting. It is unclear why and when the plan changed prior to the Feb. 10 board vote.

The new plan will be in effect until a new elementary school can be built for the Dunwoody cluster, according to a memo from the district. Both the Dunwoody and Kittredge move will be in place in time for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, Porter said.

“If it were up to me, I would have liked more students at Austin,” said board member Stan Jester, who represents the Brookhaven and Dunwoody clusters.

Jester also said Tyson has guaranteed this will be a three-year temporary move and a new elementary school for the Dunwoody/Chamblee cluster will be built in three years.

“She guarantees me a new school will be open by fall of 2023,” Jester said.

Doraville United

The temporary redistricting will also move 108 students from Hightower Elementary; 209 students from Cary Reynolds Elementary; and 381 students from Dresden Elementary to the new Doraville United Elementary School, taking effect in July.

The new, 950-seat Doraville United school, formerly known as Cross Keys North, will open in August at 3630 Shallowford Road.

The interim plan will affect a total of 800 students in the district and will eliminate all portable classrooms at Dunwoody Elementary, the press release co-written by DSCD and Porter Novelli said.

Cross Keys funding cut

The district had nearly $85 million set aside for the new, 2,500-seat Cross Keys High School in its E-SPLOST budget. Now, the funding has been cut down to $80,000 due to “insufficient unit cost estimates and insufficient escalation provided by Education Planners,” according to a budget update presented at a Jan. 13 board meeting.

DeAnna Parker, the executive director of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, an organization that focuses on the development of the community, sent a letter to the board and district on Feb. 3. The letter had other members from Los Vecinos, parents from the Cross Keys cluster and other local organizations as co-signers.

“We were and remain disappointed by this recommendation as our community, our children and parents have little opportunity to alleviate the overcrowded conditions without the strong commitment of your board and your leadership team,” the letter said.

The new high school was one of the priorities for the current E-SPLOST budget. The school was slated to be located at the former Briarcliff High School site on North Druid Hills Road to alleviate overcrowding at the current Cross Keys High, which is located at 1626 North Druid Hills.

It is unclear what the long-term plan for Cross Keys High School is. In the interim, the district will be adding portable classrooms, according to the district. The redistricting and E-SPLOST budget are the latest efforts by Tyson to put the district on firm footing, the release said.

“My primary objective during my tenure as interim superintendent is to do everything I can to put the district back on a firm foundation for the next superintendent,” Tyson said in the release. “We are focusing on three priorities: regaining financial stability; addressing the most significant challenges that impact the effectiveness of our overall performance; and ensuring that day-to-day operations are ready and thriving for the next leader.”

The letter from Los Vecinos asked the board to meet and discuss a timely and long-term plan for the Cross Keys cluster.

“We are asking for Dekalb County Board of Education to honor the commitment to us and to thousands of children in the cluster,” the letter said. “Our kids’ lives — present and future — depend on you doing the right thing.”

According to Parker, board member Allyson Gevertz, who represents District 4, said that she would be speaking with Ms. Tyson about the concerns in the letter. Gevertz did not immediately respond to a comment request.

Porter said district leaders are planning on reaching out to the Cross Keys community and addressing the group.

Correction: Due to reporting errors, a prior version of this story incorrectly said that the Kittredge Magnet School building swap would replace the plan to move 102 students from Dunwoody Elementary to Austin Elementary, rather than both moves being approved. The story also incorrectly reported that the Kittredge building swap was not among the final staff recommendations presented to the board at a Jan. 13 meeting. Because of those errors, the original story incorrectly presented the changes as a “surprise.”

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.