The city of Dunwoody has received the feasibility study on an independent school district, prepared by Dr. Christine P. Ries, an economics professor at Georgia Tech, and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
The study, paid for by the city and Dunwoody Parents Concerned about Quality Education, shows an independent city school district using current DeKalb County school board tax rates would have an operating surplus of $30.7 million. That figure could be expanded if non-instructional services such as maintenance, food service and transportation were contracted.
“The revenues available to operate Dunwoody’s schools and a new Dunwoody district office will be more than sufficient to support the cost of current educational operations,” the report concludes.
The transmission of the report came on the same day the Georgia Supreme Court upheld Gov. Nathan Deal’s removal of six members of the former DeKalb County Board of Education. And it comes in the same month the current board voted down the effort by parents in the Druid Hill High School cluster to form a self-governing charter cluster.
“Hopefully this decision will give impetus to the independent school district movement,” said state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody).
The study is part of an effort led by state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) to pass a resolution in the next session of the General Assembly allowing a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to allow new cities to create their own school districts. Support will soon be forthcoming from the Sandy Springs and Brookhaven city councils.
Taylor’s resolution is narrowly tailored to the new cities to reassure county school systems around the state that they would not be balkanized.
Passage of the resolution, while logical on its face, will be very difficult, legislators say. A short session in 2014 in the face of earlier elections will work against controversial bills. In addition, Taylor must gain passage by a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate and a two-thirds vote statewide.
The study paints a clear picture of massive amounts of funds exported from Dunwoody to the county school system with little in return.
An independent Dunwoody school system would have revenues of $78.7 million and operating expenses of $47 million, resulting in the surplus. The expenses assume teachers would continue to participate in the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.
Taylor has said a surplus of that size could be addressed in many ways. The property tax rate could be cut, class sizes could be reduced and teachers given pay raises.
For instance, if Dunwoody wanted to reduce elementary school class sizes to 19 students, the additional cost would be $2.3 million per year, plus 23 additional classrooms. A 10 percent pay raise for teachers would cost $1.6 million per year.
The report places the negative impact on the DeKalb school budget at 3 percent of its annual operating budget of $863.6 million. But it argues that DeKalb would gain state and federal funds per student as it loses property tax revenue.
The demographic profile of the Dunwoody schools would make them eligible for federal funding of $3 million, or 4 percent of its revenues. A Dunwoody school system of some 6000 students would be 51 percent white, 17 percent black, 17 percent Hispanic and 12 percent Asian-American. Some 2 percent in the city system’s seven schools would qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Up for negotiation would be proceeds from the Special Purpose Local Option sales tax for schools. The DeKalb system has listed many schools with educational and technological deficiencies that are scheduled to receive funds. Austin Elementary is to be re-built.
The report delves deeply into the demographics of Dunwoody, showing for example that 19 percent of the city’s children are attending a private school or being homeschooled.
The report notes there would be some disruptions, affecting a few hundred students. Dunwoody students now attending DeKalb schools elsewhere in the county would return to the city. Other students who don’t live in Dunwoody would return to county schools. Hightower Elementary in Doraville would no longer feed Peachtree Charter Middle School and Dunwoody High School.