DUNWOODY, Ga. — The outside attorney hired by the City of Dunwoody to review the powers of Georgia cities, counties and local school districts regarding school construction, maintenance and repairs says state law buffers schools from local codes.

“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,” William White, a partner with Smith Welch Webb and White Attorneys at Law, stated in a letter to  Assistant City Attorney William Riley. 

In his review of relevant constitutional provisions, statutes and regulatory schemes, White found that “significant discretion is vested in local school districts (acting through local boards of education) as it relates to the construction, maintenance and repair of local school facilities.”

The City of Dunwoody requested White’s review in August, after City Council members voted unanimously to seek an outside legal opinion on the question of school board sovereignty. The question stemmed from concerns over tree loss and the placement and condition of portable classrooms at several DeKalb County schools within the city limits.

White and his law firm were chosen based on their extensive experience representing cities and boards of education in Georgia. They’ve represented cities in litigation and have negotiated the interplay between powers of separate sovereigns.

“Local boards of education have nearly limitless powers to manage the affairs of their school districts without interference from other branches of government,” White wrote in his report. “This is the case even in the realm of the construction, maintenance, and repair of local school facilities.”

White’s analysis finds less authority for the city to enforce ordinances than prior analysis from the city attorney. Currently, the city enforces city codes related to land disturbance issues and fire safety at DeKalb County schools. 

The city recently revoked a memorandum of understanding that gave the school district the ability to use a third-party professional engineer to review site plans. 

You can read the five-page white paper at bit.ly/331avIR.

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