DCSS vacant properties causing blight countywide

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(View these photos full size at our Flickr page by clicking here.)

At the May 2010 board meeting, the DeKalb School board voted to close the following schools: Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Peachcrest, Medlock and Sky Haven elementary schools, Avondale Middle School and Avondale High School. Smartly, Medlock was promptly leased and re-opened by the International Community School, a DCSS charter. Spared on the first go-round were Livsey, Rock Chapel, Bob Mathis, Toney, Wadsworth Magnet and Kittredge Magnet. However, those schools — and others — could close as early as summer 2012, interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said at the time. Read this article at the AJC for details:

DeKalb school closure list drops from 14 to 8

Many south DeKalb parents rallied at the time, tearfully imploring the school board not to close their neighborhood schools. As it is, DeKalb county has suffered one of the worst drops in property values and highest number of foreclosures in the country—mostly in the south end. But the board did not listen and chose to shutter eight schools, causing severe damage and blight to their neighborhoods.

Add the above recently shuttered schools to the list of schools that have already been sitting empty for quite some time, and we have quite a long list of large vacant buildings thanks to our school board. Although the massive, vacant Druid Hills property and the former administration buildings are each on a busy, densely-used state route, literally all of the closed elementary schools like Heritage, Atherton, Gresham Park and Forrest Hills are older, but solidly-built facilities located smack in the middle of the very neighborhoods they serve. Most have gymnasiums built with SPLOST I dollars. Many have newer additions.

Having a shuttered, abandoned school out your window not only depresses your property value, it depresses your spirit. In our opinion, the school board and Ramona Tyson acted with callousness when they decided to shutter these neighborhood schools as cost-cutters, rather than digging into the central office and other administrative bloat (recently revealed here). The stated reason at the time was to save money. Ramona Tyson is quoted as saying, ““Is there a plan that makes everyone happy? No,” Tyson said. “These difficult decisions will allow the school system to redirect in the first year alone $12.4 million toward student achievement.”

So, has that money been redirected toward ‘student achievement’? Tyson had better hope so. Student achievement plummeted while students were educated under her leadership. As we reported here on the original School Watch blog, our schools had over a 50% rate of failure to make AYP last year. If you aggregate those test scores, you will see that our Title 1 schools failed at a very high rate. Even when compared to Title 1 schools in other systems as we reported last July, DeKalb’s Title 1 schools completely missed the mark on achievement.

So, with the goal of finding out what became of these closed schools, we took a field trip. We visited all eight of the shuttered schools along with several more that were closed in recent years. We took pictures. We posted these photos of decay, clutter and blight on Flickr, which is what you see in the slideshow above*. The photos clearly illustrate how DeKalb schools have inflicted the mortal blow into these struggling neighborhoods. When, if ever, will these neighborhoods recover? How?

We suggest that this be the goal of SPLOST IV: Heal the Neighborhoods. The school board needs to make restitution for the damage done. The school board created the scenario that set up flight from neighborhood schools by increasing class size, thereby reducing the need for teachers and classrooms, as well as offering an abundance of “choice”, “magnet” and “theme” schools, along with the transportation to and fro, thereby encouraging those persons with ability and awareness to abandon their neighborhood schools for greener pastures. Read our report on this topic: North vs Central vs South – what’s the deal?

The school closure issue last year brought the north-south debate to the fore once again. Parents in the south felt that the north end of the county had their requests granted – at the expense of schools in the south. This letter from the Fernbank community certainly makes one wonder if they could be some truth to that assertion. Fernbank was originally on the list for redistricting, however, after loud outcry from the community, and the formation of a Political Action Committee, Fernbank was not only left alone, they were promised a brand new facility with SPLOST IV money.

Gresham Park is also on the list for a new school with SPLOST IV. Hopefully, our leaders will place this school first on the project list, then consolidate enrollment in the area and raze the unnecessary buildings. McNair Discovery Learning Academy is a terrific example of the kind of school that can replace Gresham and others. Beyond that, some of the gyms could be saved and used as community centers. The rest of the land could serve as parks, walking trails or soccer fields in a joint effort with the county.

Additionally, Austin is listed for a new building. This is odd, as tearing down Austin and/or renovating it to accommodate 900 students will only post a gain of a few hundred seats in the over-crowded Dunwoody cluster, which is the fastest growing cluster in the system. Dunwoody could actually use a whole new additional elementary school to alleviate the current over-crowding as well as predicted growth.

Overall, new schools should only be built where there is growth and over-crowding, or where old buildings can be consolidated and demolished in areas with aging buildings and low enrollment. But just closing them and leaving them to decay is offensive and irresponsible.

Spend time viewing our photo essay and then write or call your board member demanding that these abandoned buildings be sold as parkland to the county, be placed a the top of the list to be torn down and rebuilt or completely renovated and overhauled using SPLOST IV. Our neighborhoods deserve better than these third-world eyesores staring them in their faces.

Schools cannot exist without the community. Wasn’t that the marketing phrase of DeKalb County Schools? What happened? Fix these neighborhoods. Bring them back to life. Build back these schools and make them the heart and soul of the very communities they were originally built to serve.

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* We had a technical issue with the camera. It pressed the wrong date on some of the photos. Although they are marked as October, 2011, we actually shot these photos on Thursday, January 19, and Tuesday January 24, 2012.

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About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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27 Responses to DCSS vacant properties causing blight countywide

  1. Trying some new settings for comments. Any easier?

  2. Just Watch says:

    There are no plans to close any schools this year.

    And at least two of the closed schools have solid school system driven plans to utilize them in the future, Avondale Middle and Gresham Park. Avondale Middle is slated to become the DeKalb School of the Arts and Gresham Park will become a new elementary school.

    Most readers of this blog supported the closing of those schools at the time. And there were solid reasons to do so. Most of these schools were 50 plus years old, in horrible shape, underenrolled, and very low performing. These communities were already losing population.

    What is criminal is that the system has yet to execute a plan to ensure that the buildings are reused either as community space, charter schools, or public parks. For the most part, these parcels have no value in the private sector. The areas are just to depressed.

  3. concernforthekids says:

    A great article regarding unused properties by the DeKalb County School System.
    What about facilities that the school system owns but leases to other county departments?
    The school system has lost over $1,000,000 in rent over the past decade by leasing a warehouse (that is owned by the school system) to the DeKalb County Board of Health.
    The property has 20,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space and 9,000 sq. ft. of retail space with 2 loading docks. Current market rates (which are much worse today than in pevious years) is $0.50 cents per square foot a month.
    This would be $10,000 – $15,000 per month in rent.
    The school system leases it for $1,200 a month and has for the last 5 years. Where does the little money go?
    General fund. Guess how much rent was charged the previous 5 years? $1 per month……
    Guess who signed the lease? You know it! Crawford Lewis and Pat Pope!
    We even allocated money in SPLOST III for additional needed warehouse space for record retention.
    Guess what? We already have a warehouse!
    Dr. Atkinson commissioned a complete audit at the November Budget committee meeting of ALL unused facilities by the school system. I would LOVE to see the report on ALL of the properties NOT being used by the school sytem, not just the 8 schools we closed last year.
    Have a good day!

  4. We’re working on that. In fact, this story is a groundbreaker and will expand into several posts. It sounds like you have important knowledge. Please forward any info that would help us write the next post in this series. Our new email address is:
    dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com

    As always, your identity will be protected at all costs.

  5. formerdekalbparent says:

    Where do you think any restitution paid by DCSS would come from? YOU…..the taxpayers…….we need a comprehensive look at all the buildings and cherry pick the ones in the best cindition to send children to regardless of the neighborhood. Keeping all these older underpopulated schools open is draining precious resources. This is just a bandaid on the gaping chest wound, but to seek reparations from yourself is foolish.

  6. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    The intent of “restitution” is not a payout to anyone, it’s a statement that the school system needs to “make it right” for these neighborhoods ASAP. Either by tearing down buildings, creating parklands, or greenspace, selling buildings to investors or businesses to encourage economic growth, or getting to work right away on those promised SPLOST IV projects that will most help the neighborhoods suffering from school system blight. For instance, we think it’s imperative to rebuild Gresham Park before Austin. Austin is open. It is not vacant, causing blight. Yet both are listed on SPLOST IV and in no particular order. In fact, we’d love to insist on a schedule for SPLOST IV or a list of priorities. Again, no stadiums should be renovated before this blight issue is addressed.

  7. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Definition of RESTITUTION
    1
    : an act of restoring or a condition of being restored: as a : a restoration of something to its rightful owner b : a making good of or giving an equivalent for some injury
    2
    : a legal action serving to cause restoration of a previous state

  8. This is so faint. Is there a better way to view ?

  9. Poster says:

    I agree with the poster above. The font (at least on my computer) seems smaller than the old blog and the color is not a true black. It’s is hard to read for us old-timers. Is it possible to enlarge the font and make it darker? Thank you!

  10. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    Agreed. No stadiums before blight is addressed. Why is there not a list of priorities in projects for Boondoggle IV. One last thing, I hope they change the font. It looks nice but it is not readable, Very gray and thin….

  11. pcaldarella says:

    “Boondoggle IV” – Love that AMG.

  12. teacher says:

    For those having trouble viewing the font:
    An easy trick to enlarge the webpage you’re viewing (zoom in) is to hit control and the plus sign (+) at the same time. Then to zoom out hit control –
    Hope this helps 🙂

  13. noduh1961 says:

    Shazam, Teacher 5:50!! It worked. lol

    Cere, the amount of work you put into this never ceases to amaze me. Thanks!

  14. We’ll get one of the techies to work on the fonts… that’s over my pay grade. Stay tuned – and thanks for the honest input. Trying hard to get up and running. If anyone would like to volunteer to contribute as a writer, send an email to the team at
    dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com

    We need a few people willing to commit to sharing the tasks of attending and reporting on meetings like the budget committee, SPLOST IV and the regular board meetings. You can find a friend and share the task!

  15. dekalbite says:

    APS has closed many schools in the last 10 to 15 years. What have they done with them?

  16. Just Watch says:

    Many of the APS schools became lofts, condos etc. The system actually employs (employed?) someone to handle the challenge of re-purposing buildings. Lately, many have become charter schools. The difference is that APS made it a priority and though we can ask hard questions about how the Board handled the cheating issues/scandal, their board was able to make rational decisions about things like real estate. We, on the other hand, are blessed with board members like Sarah Copelin-Woods, who has a sentimental attachment to every building in her district and Don McChesney who is obsessed with the old Druid Hills property. Lucky Us!

  17. Ned says:

    OT, but has anyone notice that past page 3 or so the “School Choice Guide” put out by DCSS still has all the due dates and other information for last year?
    You’d think with 337 EXTRA PEOPLE someone could have spent a day updating this . . .

  18. Anonymous says:

    Have you presented any specific proposals from investors to buy any property that DCSS is refusing to sell? If so, I think a lot of people would live to hear about it. But if your point is that the School System, which is chartered by law to operate schools should somehow expand it’s role, even as it is struggling with it’s designated purpose, I strongly disagree. This is not the proper organization for social policy; it is an education organization.

  19. Just Watch says:

    Ned

    It is worse than that. Go look at it again. The tour dates, deadlines, lottery dates etc in the booklet are all from 2011. The woman who runs the magnet office is nothing short of incompetent. Always making mistakes and always keeping her job. Miraculous, huh?

    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/school-choice/school-choice-brochure-(2012-2013).pdf

  20. Thanks on the font size! It helps!

  21. dekalbite says:

    @ Just Watch

    You’re right. The dates are 2011. This was very lazy. What does that make DCSS look like? And to think we have 300 EXCESS Central Office personnel. This is actually very typical of DCSS. Put something put and then wait until someone complains before you fix it.

  22. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    Website, let’s see, well it’s that old MIS Dept. again. Who runs that Department? Who ran it before he did? I think that explains it.

    The new color is Great! Thanks. I’m excited that this site will allow for more videos and slides. It will be easy to access those old PowerPoints that DCSS loves so much.

  23. Just Watch says:

    I suspect that this is a PDF of a booklet that was actually printed. For the record, the woman who runs the magnet office makes 6 figures and can’t even get this right. Plus, she repeatedly makes the same mistakes year after year. As always in DeKalb, no accountability. However, I hear that things are changing and that Atkinson gets mad at this kind of stuff. Who wants to point the errors out to her?

  24. bettyandveronica says:

    Here Here! The font on the posts are way too small. Host, Please check out the bottom of screen, Fonts on this blog. Can’t read this size font. I would say a great number of your readers need readers themselves.

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