Eight additional trailers are on the way to Dunwoody High School by the end of the summer. This is in addition to the 67 trailers already placed across the Dunwoody Cluster of schools. Our schools are overcrowded and our DeKalb County School District lacks the resources to address what is becoming a crisis in our school cluster. According to DCSD planning, Dunwoody schools will be overcrowded beyond 2025.
Location and schools are on new residents’ minds when they move here. Dunwoody is ideally located with its access to mass transit and the freeway system. Families know the importance of education and want their kids to attend the highest performing schools. Dunwoody has some great schools, but we aren’t among the best to be honest. Overcrowding has become a very visible problem that is dragging our schools down. Milton, East Cobb and Decatur have schools that drive the success of their community. The future success of our city lies in the performance of our schools today.
Finding a solution to the very complex problem of overcrowding is difficult, but not impossible. It requires our city, county and local neighborhood leaders to become a united front to lead our community through the hard discussions of how we approach this through “out of the box” thinking.
Based on a 2015 report, DCSD needs around $1.9 billion to “catch up” and address the facilities needs of the county. DCSD operates on a budget of $1 billion with additional funds coming from SPLOST or around $100 million a year. The math does not work, and Dekalb will never catch up.
Conversations being discussed around Dunwoody include:
• Short term - Immediate focus on the intense overcrowding at Dunwoody Elementary School (~350 kids over), Peachtree Middle School (~400 kids over), and Dunwoody High School (~600 kids over). Hightower Elementary, which is not in the City of Dunwoody but feeds Dunwoody schools, is also overcrowded (~250 kids over).
• Long term – Capacity planning needs to be done right. This should be managed many years in advance and not in reaction to current enrollment.
• Keep Dunwoody kids in local schools (and not bussed out of the city). Parents move to, and live in, Dunwoody to send their kids to local schools, not a neighboring city.
• Spend more money on building beyond classrooms - improve common spaces, fields, etc.
• Find a use for the land at Chamblee-Dunwoody and Shallowford that DCSD owns or find land in Dunwoody for a new school. And yes, it will be expensive.
• Look at an option to update and reuse Austin Elementary and work with the city to see what is possible.
• Remove some or all students from the cluster that are not local.
• Ask for help and hire people / consultants / planners smarter than any of us to look at current DCSD issues and provide solutions.
• Consider what a split schedule at DHS would look like where the school day is divided into two shifts.
• Move beyond just “fixing” local schools and consider making Dunwoody schools a draw. Evaluate the idea to build a special-purpose school in Dunwoody modeled after schools like the Chamblee Magnet Program or the DeKalb School of the Arts.
• Consider that Peachtree Middle School and Dunwoody High School should be swapped. The DHS facility becomes the middle school and PCMS facility becomes the high school. The funds allocated for both the PCMS and DHS updates should be reallocated and spent on a PCMS update to convert it to a larger high school with adequate common spaces and fields. The existing DHS capacity will fit current PCMS enrollment.
If DCSD was a business, it would have been bankrupt long ago. As painful as this is to say, DCSD does not have a spending problem. It has a revenue problem. The district does not have enough funds to meet the needs of Dunwoody nor the county school system.
I ask all of us to stay engaged in the conversation. Give DCSD another chance and the opportunity to work with the community to find solutions. Don’t get derailed by politics, complaints and blame. Let’s help DCSD be successful and find ways to bring in additional resources. Let’s all work together to find solutions to make Dunwoody schools top notch.
Dunwoody resident and Peachtree Middle School parent