Should New Cities Be Allowed To Form Independent School Districts?

By: Buzz Brockway

An independent Dunwoody school system would run a surplus of $30 million according to a feasibility study paid for by the city and a local parents group.

“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.

Taylor’s resolution is HR486 and has been assigned to the House Education Committee. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a co-sponsor of the bill.

Nancy Jester, running for Georgia State Superintendent, points out in her blog, Do City School Districts Perform Better?:

The better average performance of city districts relative to DeKalb, the metro area and the state as a whole, is important and striking. If our state is to improve the educational lives of our children and have a robust economy, we must allow independent/city school districts to form. To continue the arbitrary freeze on new districts is a disservice to our children, particularly our most vulnerable children, and impairs our economic viability.

John Heneghan, a Dunwoody city councilman, has more details of the report on his blog including a link to the full report. Of note is this passage:

The report is specifically designed to assess whether educational services provided to the recently founded City of Dunwoody by the DeKalb County School District could be provided more efficiently with a leaner organizational form. The question is whether a Dunwoody Independent School District (DISD) can potentially manage a single ‘cluster’ of Dunwoody schools (one high school, and ‘feeder’ middle school and elementary schools) and deliver the same or better district educational and management services at lower cost.

Such organizational reform may be not only financially prudent but would facilitate the classroom-centered and child-centered operations without the organizational encumbrances of a district organized to serve 98,000 children. Significant changes in information technology have substantially altered the economies of scale arguments that previously argued for larger school districts. Smaller districts are consistent with educational reform that emphasizes child-centered education.

There’s no doubt this proposal will set off a firestorm in DeKalb and in the educational establishment around the state, and as one of our Front Page Posters said to me, this could attract the attention of the Justice Department.

The Dunwoody Crier article points out why:

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.

A bit different than DeKalb County Schools as a whole.

It should also be pointed out that forming an independent school district is no small undertaking. Dunwoody and other cities may decide they don’t want to be in the school system business and would rather keep things as they are.

And of course, all of this assumes Rep. Taylor can convince super-majorities in the House and Senate to put this on the ballot next fall and that voters approve it.

Nevertheless the wave of new cities shows no signs of slowing down, especially in DeKalb. Three such DeKalb county proposals sit in the House and four in the Senate, though one is a duplicate of a House bill.

The debate over city-hood and now independent school systems appears to be just heating up.

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