An angry DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester has emailed Dunwoody and its city council urging the city to enforce its ordinances and codes for building activity by the DeKalb County school system.
Spurred by complaints over the school system’s unannounced and un-permitted move of classroom trailers to the Dunwoody High School campus, Jester is asking the city for a timetable `for enforcement, permitting and inspections.” The DeKalb system envisions using the trailers in August when the next school year begins with a large ninth-grade class.
Dunwoody city officials said City Manager Eric Linton is looking at the issue and seeking legal advice.
It has been generally understood that school systems are sovereign governments that can do what they want on school-owned property. The DeKalb schools, for instance, employ their own fire marshal.
Jester is making the argument, based on a 2002 case decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals, that only a city has the powers to enforce such things as building, plumbing, electrical and stormwater codes. Such “supplementary powers,” the court ruled, are denied to any other governmental entities within city limits.
In her letter to the city, Jester urges elected officials to state their opposition.
“There are times,” she wrote, when you need to speak up about the poor performance of staff…You are the voice of the citizens and not the cheerleaders for the taxpayer-funded staff.”
Jester said her statement was a reference to those council members who say the school district is beyond their control.
Councilor Terry Nall didn’t agree.
“Not since the days of former chief executive Vernon Jones has our Dunwoody area been under attack from a sitting DeKalb County official,” he said. “Dunwoody adheres to its obligations as a city. Any claim or suggestion by Commissioner Jester to the contrary is simply incorrect.”
The larger issue, Jester told The Crier, goes well beyond the trailers. They are the precursors of a planned expansion of Dunwoody High to more than 2,000 students. Jester favors construction of a new high school in Doraville where developers have offered land. School councils in Dunwoody generally oppose new construction and support expansion to avoid Dunwoody students being forced to go to school elsewhere.
Dunwoody, Chamblee and Lakeside high schools all are planned for expansion, despite being on acreage far too small for consideration of a new high school.
Jester’s aggressive approach is being heard. State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) is seeking guidance from legislative counsel, while state Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) says the school system’s approach underscores his long push for an independent school district. It has failed to gain traction at the state capitol.
Jester says other cities have pushed back against the school system, citing Brookhaven in its negotiations over the former Skyland Elementary, soon to be John Lewis Elementary.
Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson agrees.
“We can’t not zone new schools and buildings,” he said, “but there are things in the area of health and safety that we can negotiate.”
While Chamblee’s brand new high school is brand new, the school system is proposing to break agreements made when it was planned.
Preliminary designs for Chamblee High expansion show student parking lots abutting Chamblee Dunwoody Rd. Clarkson says that is a public safety issue and a traffic issue. Further, he says, all of Chamblee’s new growth requires building to the street and pedestrian access.
The DeKalb school system does not communicate with The Crier on area school issues.
Separately, the Dunwoody High Parent Teachers Organization and its fund-raising arm are being caught up in the decision to expand the building. At Monday night’s school board work session, the school representatives were asking the school system to accept their plans and contributions for the installation of artificial turf, bleachers and lighting for its playing field, a new track and a new field house with restrooms. The resolution before the school board would allow those facilities to be unimpeded by the 2020 expansion of the high school and 26 new classrooms.