DHA engages in battle

The Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association wasted no time Sunday night getting behind the Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education. The DHA will give $5000 to the group as it begins to explore if a separate city school system is feasible and other options to obtain higher quality.

Michael Thurmond, DeKalb’s school superintendent had tentatively been listed as a speaker, but he was unable to attend. He will speak at a DHA event at 7:30 p.m. Sunday evening at the Kingsley Swim and Racket Club on North Peachtree Way

The board heard from state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) who has dropped a bill to allow separate school systems in select new cities. The board voted unanimously to support his effort.

“The status quo (in our schools) is unacceptable,” said former school board member Jim Redovian.

Michael Starling, the city’s economic development director, gave the DHA an optimistic report, calling 2012 a big year. He said the city’s goal with its 2400 companies is retention, recruitment and redevelopment, pointing to a dozen new restaurants and the lease of two Perimeter Center buildings to State Farm insurance.

“They’ve taken 7,000 square feet,” he said, “and there are rumors of much more.”

Starling cited Project Renaissance in the Georgetown area as a redevelopment project that will begin construction this year.

Another optimistic viewpoint came from Matt Hagan, the senior leasing representative for Regency Centers.

Hagan told the board he was a “proud new Dunwoody resident” working for a company that owns 400 shopping centers, 20 of them in metro Atlanta, including Dunwoody Village.

Hagan said that the village is looking up, citing the leases for MoJo Burrito, the Café at Pharr, Bruster’s, Blooms of Dunwoody and Taggart’s Driving School. He also said a new restaurant site is close to being leased next to Marlowe’s Tavern.

“We have a lot of momentum with the shopping center,” he said. The village is being re-branded with new signage..

The DHA board also:

• voted to donate $2500 to a living garden at Peachtree Charter Middle School, with board member Greg Crnkovich volunteering the services of the All Saints Knights of Columbus to build a deer fence around it.

• voted to become a sponsor once again of Lemonade Days

• discussed sponsoring a summer concert series, but came to no conclusion

Federal judge denies DeKalb board, parents take action

A U.S. district judge ruled Monday against six members of the DeKalb County School Board who sought a court order to block their suspension by the state.

Judge Richard Story, however, ruled that that the parties – Gov. Nathan Deal and the state school board and Chairman Eugene Walker and the DeKalb school board - will prepare questions to be certified by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The ruling came a day after several hundred Dunwoody residents packed the sanctuary of Kingswood United Methodist Church to hear of the formation of a group exploring separate accreditation for Dunwoody High and whether a Dunwoody school system separate from DeKalb County is viable.

The county system was placed on probation in December by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

“It’s like a final warning,” said Donna Nall, a founder of DeKalb Parents Concerned About Quality Education. “The next step we will lose accreditation.”

Nall and her husband, Dunwoody Councilman Terry Nall, are moving to seek separate accreditation from the Georgia Accreditation Commission.

Terry Nall said the accreditation issue is also an economic development issue. He spoke of a feasibility study that would look at whether the city could mount its own school system and such a system’s impact on the county system. Nall said two entities, the Carl Vinson Institute and Georgia State University, were being considered for the study. He said he hoped to have it by October.

Later Sunday, the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association board voted unanimously to contribute $5000 to the new group to help with the accreditation review (see story, front page.) The city council also is expected to contribute

The citizen action comes after state Rep. Tom Taylor introduced a bill last week to give new cities the option of their own school systems, including combinations of contiguous cities.

The bill, he said, faces an uphill fight because it requires amending the state constitution. It would take a two-thirds vote of both houses of the General Assembly and then two-thirds approval in a statewide referendum.

“There are lot of obstacles,” Taylor told the crowd, “and that’s a good thing because you don’t want to arbitrarily change the constitution.”

Allegra Johnson, a mother of DeKalb school children was elected president of the new group. It is underway with the process of forming a non-profit organization and its website is being built at dunwoodyparents.org.

The group also heard from Robert Wittenstein who talked about how an independent school system might be financed, and state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) and the former DeKalb school board chairman Brad Bryant, who will be Governor Deal’s liaison to the interim school superintend in DeKalb as he tries to keep the system accredited.

“Dr. (Mark) Elgart, (the president of SACS), in my conversation with him, I don’t think he wants us to lose accreditation,” Bryant said.

During the question and answer period, two local teachers drew the sympathy of the crowd.

“Thank you from an impassioned Peachtree Charter Middle School teacher,” said one as she explained the absence of teacher pay increases, furloughs and larger class sizes.

A teacher at Montgomery Elementary in Brookhaven said teachers were leaving and trying to leave DeKalb in droves.

“The non-support from the county is what’s driving us away,” she said.

Both teachers begged reporters not to report their names, for fear of retaliation.

In Judge Story’s ruling Monday, he swatted away claims by the school board and Walker that their 14th Amendment rights to due process were violated, each for different reasons.

But the judge said the question of injunctive relief under the state constitution is a closer question. Time was of the essence, he wrote, and said that a certification before the Georgia Supreme Court would be faster than a case that worked its way through the appellate process.

“Though the public has an interest in its elected officials being allowed to serve in the offices to which they were elected,” he said, “there is an even greater public interest at stake here. The interest of the public in a healthy public school system outweighs the interests of board members in serving in their positions.”

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